Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Chances are that anyone interested in this post either attended and/or watched Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

We braved the brisk fall morning and enjoyed the company and creativity of a few hundred thousand of our most sane friends.

But, instead of rehashing the entire event, here's the day in sign language. Political commentary was everywhere.

Some chose to poke fun at South Carolina...

while others made light of the "debate" over the President's birth place.

Others were just silly.

But all echoed the measured/calm/rational vibe of the day that was refreshingly, and sadly, unique for DC.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Song Que

We liked our first adventure to Eden Center so much that we were eager to return to test drive the famous banh mi sandwiches. After navigating the crazy parking lot (tip: just park in the far reaches and walk), we headed to Song Que, located in the back corner of the shopping center.

The owners of Four Sisters (Huong Que) moved out of this bustling space a few years ago and moved their tiny deli (Song Que) from next door into the former restaurant location. The result is a spacious deli/market with a small seating area in the back. You might encounter a bit of chaos when you enter, but the staff kept the orders moving rapidly. Our cashier kept apologizing to me because I had to wait about five minutes. Speed is the name of the game at Song Que.

B and I are headed to Vietnam in a few months and are on a mission to become more acquainted with the cuisine before our trip. Trying banh mi was a must. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich served on a baguette, and stuffed with meat and pickled vegetables. We've been told that they cost less than 75 cents in Vietnam and, after tasting Song Que's version, I have a feeling we'll be stuffing ourselves silly with banh mi during our trip. The bread was warm and toasty, the grilled pork had a wonderful bbq flavor, and the pickled veggies added just the right crunch. I loved the way the jalapeno added a spicy kick to jazz up the overall flavor of the sandwich. While not Vietnam street food prices, they are still a total steal at $3 or less.

Song Que also has an impressively large selection of bubble tea flavors. Nothing pairs better with the toasty banh mi than a cool, slushy bubble tea. If you're like B and don't like tapioca balls, you can order the drinks sans bubbles.

Since we're Vietnamese food newbies, where should we go next? We've got a lot more research to do!

Second Thoughts from B

The bottom line is that I didn't ask for a recommendation. Intimidated by the crowd? Overwhelmed by the vast, yet poorly-described options plastered on the wall? Practicing ordering for myself in preparation for our Vietnamese vacation? Or perhaps distracted by the TV showing an infomercial on the Jack LaLanne Power Juicer? You decide...

Regardless, J's pick (No. 8) was the better selection. Her sandwich had a very pleasing combination of sweet, savory, and spicy flavors, while mine simply didn't fit my palate. The cold slabs of meat on the tasty French bread had that distinct hint of bitterness that is common in Asian cuisine, but is just not my favorite. Not that it was bad, I just ordered wrong. Still, it didn't stop our jaws hitting the floor (in a good way) when we saw the bill. This just means we can afford many more return trips to fine tune my selection.
Song Que on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lincoln's Waffle Shop

It is times like these when I'm thankful for great friends who like to eat. I don't think I ever would've set foot in Lincoln's Waffle Shop if it wasn't for our friend Matt who dragged me there for lunch. The restaurant is located on the part of 10th street NW by Ford's Theatre that makes my shoulders tense up because of the crowds of middle school tour groups dressed in tie dyed DC shirts that they purchased next door.

However, if you can squeeze your way through the crowded sidewalk and into Lincoln's Waffle Shop, you're in for a treat. What I love most about this place is the huge variety of customers that pack the stools and tables. You might find yourself sitting next to an FBI agent or a family visiting from Illinois. The 5:30 am opening time allows the very friendly staff to serve to-go orders to construction workers and early birds on their way to work. One time we saw a guy pour an entire container of sugar into his coffee cup. Probably would've been more efficient to dump the cup of coffee into the sugar, but I digress.

After the iconic Waffle Shop down the street closed in 2007, the staff and menu moved in to the Lincoln House Restaurant, and became Lincoln's Waffle Shop. I'm not certain that Lincoln liked waffles but I know he would've appreciated the value. For just a few bucks, you can treat yourself to a classic diner-style waffle. For just $6.45 you can get a waffle served with 2 eggs and a side of meat. If you're of the pancake persuasion, you can't go wrong with an order of banana pancakes. If you can't get moving early in the morning, they serve breakfast until closing time (7:00 pm weekdays and 3:00 pm weekends). If you're a day drinker, they have a full bar in the basement downstairs. You are guaranteed to meet some interesting people in the basement of a waffle shop imbibing during daylight hours.

If you're not in the mood for breakfast, Matt swears by the club sandwich served with a side of collard greens. I ventured out of my breakfast comfort zone to try the bacon cheeseburger. This baby flips the bird to the trendy burger restaurants that have been cropping up on every corner. It is a no-nonsense, no-frills burger that won't win any awards but won me over with its simplicity. The fries are your standard out-of-the-bag frozen variety, so you'd be better off taking Matt's advice and trying the collards.

One of our favorite things about writing this blog is hearing about your favorite diamonds in the rough. What's your Lincoln's Waffle Shop?

Second Thoughts from B

It is the simplest of diners in a far from simple part of town... and what an oasis it is. Its menu is a stereotype of every roadside diner you've ever been to. Reliably greasy and cheap, while also filling and familiar. Is it this culinary change of pace that makes me smile or something about their charmingly awkward interior? Whatever it is, this is a DC dive that I'm happy to have on my short list.
Lincoln House Restaurant & Deli on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vace Italian Deli

After the Italian Store opened my eyes to the glory of Italian delis, I was excited to check out Vace Italian Deli in Cleveland Park. The Calcagno family has been operating Vace since Ford was in office, so they must be serving up great things. For you Marylanders, there is a Vace in Bethesda, too.

The small storefront could easily blend in with the rest of the shops and restaurants on this busy strip of Connecticut Avenue but the words "Home-Made Pasta" call out to me each time we pass by. We finally made our way inside and were greeted by meat hanging from the ceiling. Off to a good start!

We made a beeline for the refrigerated section and loaded up our basket with fresh pasta, along with the frozen pumpkin ravioli and a giant frozen brick of lasagna. About two seconds after B took the above picture, a swarm of parents and kids hopped in line to get pizza by the slice and deli sandwiches. Luckily, the friendly staff moved the line very quickly, and we were paying for our Italian goodies in no time. Even though we had just eaten, I was really tempted to sample one of the pizza slices or test whether the deli sandwiches stack up to the Italian Store. For once, I kept my impulses in check and left the pizza and sandwich extravaganza for a future visit.

There will most definitely be a future Vace visit. We loved everything about the fresh pasta, pillowy pumpkin ravioli, and walnut cream sauce. We've yet to tackle the mountain of lasagna, but if the rest of the food is any indication, it will be tasty.

Has anyone out there tried the other food offerings at Vace? Any favorites to share?

Second Thoughts from B

Is there anything better than fresh pasta? For someone who already has much love for pasta that is dry in a box, homemade is pure heaven. The problem is, making pasta at home is more trouble than it is worth... especially when we have Vace in our lives.

When I was a kid, my mom and I set out to make pasta. We made the dough, covered ourselves (and the kitchen) in flour, and spent way too much time with the pasta press. The result? Rather unsatisfying looking spaghetti that too closely resembled my latest Play-Doh experiment. As for the taste, it was so memorable that I can't remember anything about it.

Now, for a couple of dollars at Vace you can get a bag of fresh pasta that is big enough for 4-6 meals. One word of advice, don't try and do too much to it. A little olive oil, salt, and pepper is fine. Adding garlic, lemon, or red pepper flakes is permissible, but it is almost a crime to drown these noodles of perfect flavor and texture in a heavy sauce.

As for the frozen pumpkin ravioli and walnut cream sauce, I don't know what to say. If I hadn't pulled it out of my own freezer I would have sworn that a cute old Italian lady was hidden in my kitchen and made this dish fresh. Fantastic!
Vace Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pica Taco

Our mission to locate the best taco in DC brought us to the tiny Pica Taco just off Columbia Road between Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. B read about Pica Taco in the Express when it first opened last year and was intrigued by the promise of authentic tacos.

Pica Taco is a no-frills, order at the counter place. There are a couple of tables inside where you can eat while watching telenovelas. Telenovelas blaring from the TV are a good sign that the tacos will be authentic.

Another good sign? Lengua tacos! If the menu features tacos made with beef parts that make you a little squeamish, they'll probably be great. Pica Taco serves up the Mexican standards filled with lengua (that's tongue for los gringos que no hablan espanol) along side barbacoa (shredded bbq beef), pastor (pork), steak, fish, and chicken. With tacos priced at $2.25 each (or $2.5o for fish or steak), you can sample several different kinds to see what you like best. B braved the lengua taco and found it to be flavorful and cooked well so that it wasn't chewy. Nothing worse than overcooked beef tongue.

A slight miscommunication led to B getting a second taco instead of an enchilada, so we both got to test out the barbacoa tacos. Major points for authenticity with the double corn tortilla, chopped onions and cilantro, and thinly-sliced radish. The barbacoa could've used a bit more heat, but was helped along by the salsa they provided on the side. My chicken taco was slapped with the gringo stick and buried under cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and iceberg lettuce. It was more Taco Bell than taco truck.

As I happily sipped my horchata (cinnamon rice milk) on the way home, I thought about nearby Taqueria Distrito Federal, the closest comparison to Pica Taco that we've experienced in DC. In a head-to-head matchup, I think TDF would take the belt for authenticity and overall experience. It must be something about those year-round Christmas decorations at TDF that calls to me.

Second Thoughts from B

As we walked away from Pica Taco I said to J, "That was like a brick and mortar taco truck."
My comment was high praise in the authenticity department. Let's not confuse Pica Taco with the wave of new, high-end mobile culinary trend setters aiming for a shot on Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. This is the old school food truck. No frills and no need to have more than $5 in your pocket. A place to happily fill your stomach and do so quickly. A place that is equally comfortable for men in business suits and college students in laundry-day pajama pants. And sometimes, that's all you need.
Pica Taco on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Cereal Bowl

Depending on your feelings about cereal, this post will either make you run to Cleveland Park or roll your eyes. The Cereal Bowl in Cleveland Park is the latest installment in a mini-chain of restaurants that seeks to lure in those people (like me) that love cereal and can eat it any time of the day or night.

The concept is pretty basic: take about two dozen popular cereal varieties, mix with a wide selection of toppings from wheat germ to gummy worms, and add a splash of milk from the milk bar (available in skim, 2%, whole, lactose free, and soy). Also on the menu are a variety of oatmeal combinations if you want to turn up the heat on your breakfast or smoothies if you like your meals through a straw.

Pajama-clad employees can assist you in coming up with your own funky combination or you can choose from a list of mixes. What five year old wouldn't look longingly at the "Dirt Bowl" featuring Cookie Crisp, Oreos, chocolate syrup, and gummy worms? Clearly, cereal doesn't have to equal healthy.

Since I can open up my cabinet and mix together cold cereals at home, I was more intrigued by the hot bowls of oatmeal with unique toppings. I tried the "Funky Monkey Morning" featuring oats, bananas, peanut butter chips, chocolate chips, and marshmallows. First of all, no normal human needs to eat the giant bowl of oatmeal that bears the label "regular size." Go with the small. After stuffing myself silly, I had enough oatmeal to take home to eat the next day. Second, I should probably tell you that I'm the weird girl that orders oatmeal at restaurants and makes "overnight oats" to take to work for breakfast on gym days. Oatmeal and I know each other very well.

So often oatmeal gets a bad name because it's not cooked well. Who wants to eat thin, soupy mush? However, The Cereal Bowl understands that oats can be a breakfast star when cooked to the point that they are thick but not gloppy. As B dove into his "Mom Knows More" bowl with oatmeal, apple pie filling, caramel, and graham bites, we both agreed that the oats were done right. The bowl of goodness even sparkled like diamonds when the sunshine hit it.

Even with the perfectly-cooked oats, I still wasn't ready to run up and down Connecticut Avenue to sing The Cereal Bowl's praises. Here's where I agree with the eye-rolling cereal skeptics. I can make this stuff at home pretty easily and for a lot less money. While the combinations have cutesy names and sugar coma-inducing toppings that you might not think of yourself, there is no magic in what they're serving.

I think it's worth a stop if you're a cereal addict or looking to piss off your dentist. It's cute and colorful, and a nice change of pace from cereal on the couch in front of 90210 on SoapNet. (Wait, that's just us?)

I won't be running back for more with all the other DC breakfast options that I've yet to conquer, but I will be considering how to get my law firm to adopt the pajama dress code.

Second Thoughts from B

Earlier this week we told you about the quintessential diamond in the rough, Kerrigan's Corner Deli, whose run down gas station facade belied the fact that it housed the best chicken man in the area. Unfortunately, The Cereal Bowl is more cubic zirconia than diamond. It sure does look pretty, but that's the extent of its worth.

If we had kids, I'm sure we'd be regulars. The bright colors, vast options, and whimsical concept is perfect for a group of toddlers who have earned a special treat. But considering that the only mouths to feed in our home are attached to the people who also stock the pantry, The Cereal Bowl is about as exciting as a trip to the grocery store.
The Cereal Bowl on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kerrigan's Corner Deli

On a recent Sunday we decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and head to Poolesville, Maryland for a bike ride. With the assistance of the Bike Washington website, we mapped out a 30 mile out and back ride along the C&O canal towpath. Forget fancy gear and an irritating bell, the most essential thing for a long bike ride is lunch. I plan bike rides around lunch. Yeah, I said it.

So it was a bit of an adventure for us to set out on the ride without a solid lunch plan. We figured we'd just find some food at the 15 mile mark in Point of Rocks, Maryland. After bumping along the beautiful towpath, we crossed a bridge and the (active!) railroad tracks and saw this:

Fabulous. A broken-down old gas station next to an equally broken-down old liquor store. We stopped to assess our options. B pulled out the Droid and checked all of our restaurant-finding apps while I said a silent prayer to the food gods. I was starving and not looking forward to eating at a gas station. After striking out with the apps, we decided to pedal into the "center of town" figuring that there would be additional food options. Unfortunately, the center of town was up a hill (boo) and contained nothing more than a community center. The uphill trek was not all terrible because at said community center we got to watch a peewee soccer game being refereed by a very serious eight year old in a very serious ref outfit. Not seeing any culinary options at the soccer game, we resigned ourselves to gas station food.

We opened the door and saw the usual: chips, sodas, sunflower seeds, bait, and motor oil. However, the smell permeating the store was ridiculously, amazingly good. Our eyes grew wide as we realized that the smell was coming not from heaven but from the pile of fried chicken being kept hot next to the register.

I'm the first to admit that I was on the verge of a pity party when I realized that we'd be eating at the gas station. Whoever first said that appearances can be deceiving must have eaten the fried chicken at Kerrigan's Corner Deli. Holy eff that was some amazing fried chicken! My pity party turned into an all-out high-fiving party after one bite.

We pedaled back to the car with greasy smiles on our faces and dreams of chicken legs dancing in our heads. The chicken was so awesome that I almost didn't freak out about the ginormous snake we saw on the side of the path. Almost.

I don't care how you choose to get there (bike, kayak, train, car, snowshoe, or camel) but just get thee arse to Point of Rocks, Maryland and pay a visit to the crumbly old gas station that doesn't sell gas but does sell chicken sent from heaven.

Second Thoughts from B

We've written about the wonderful biking options in the District and our affinity for mixing in a meal during our rides. We've also mentioned the fact that I can't keep up with my wife who has added 6 a.m. spinning to her weekly routine.

So Kerrigan's fried chicken, using the Irish theme, was really the pot of gold at the other side of the rainbow that kept my pedals turning. J even joked that she could hang the last piece of chicken from her bike to fuel the trek back to the car. Clearly, the carrot is a better motivator than the stick, especially when the carrot is a piping hot, juicy, wonderfully-flavored piece of fried chicken.

There were three reasons why I had high hopes for Kerrigan's (beyond the hunger that I had developed chasing down my wife for 15 gravelly miles). First, when we pulled within 30 feet of this gas station, it smelled like fried chicken. What a huge improvement over the usual fumes and stench, and a telling preview of great things to come. Second, when we entered, the gentleman behind the counter said he was about to make a fresh batch. Sometimes timing is everything. And third, on the grease-stained wall, I saw this article that identified our cook as, "the best 'chicken man'... in the business." Sure the quote came from his business partner, but after tasting the goods, I can't disagree.
Kerrigan's Corner Deli on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Monuments at Night

We are always pushing the idea of seeing the monuments at night, primarily because at that time they are less crowded and more beautiful. We'd like to introduce evidence A-F, taken on a beautiful fall night in one of the world's most beautiful cities.

World War II Memorial. Light, water, and great views of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.

Is there a better spot in DC?

Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Beautiful and haunting at the same time. One of my favorites.

Chances are that you're plenty familiar with the Lincoln Memorial, but we've climbed those famous steps often enough to prove that you can't get tired of it.

Korean War Veterans Memorial. Talk about haunting... here's your reminder of the terror of war. It is almost a shame not to see it at night.

And of course, the money shot. Just like you can't film a TV show or movie in DC without this picture, you can't live or visit without marveling at this breathtaking sight.