Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Little Fountain Cafe

The bustling stretch of 18th street in Adams Morgan is probably not where you'd go if looking for a romantic hideaway of a restaurant. But friends, hidden deep within the land of Jumbo Slice, hipster bars, and shots is The Little Fountain Cafe. Stepping down into the restaurant from the busy street is like stepping into Hansel and Gretel's hood. It is cozy and quaint with an old world charm. Though it is often recommended by Tom Sietsema in his weekly chats, it took a Groupon to finally get us in the door.

The Groupon expires in mid-February and, according to our waitress, most of the 899 people who purchased one waited until the last month to use it. As a result, the staff had a bit of Groupon fatigue. Lucky for you, after February 11th the Groupon reign is over.

The fun thing about getting food at a discount, is that you get to sample more items from the menu than you normally might. We splurged and each ordered an appetizer. B, always searching for his favorite crab cake, test drove The Little Fountain Cafe's version and pronounced them worthy of a place in the crustacean hall of fame.

I tried the cheese plate trio with warm almond-crusted goat cheese with fig preserves, brie with truffle oil, and stilton with honeyed walnuts. I gobbled up the cheese with the help of the grilled bread and loved the contrast in cheeses and cheese companions (particularly the honeyed walnuts). A couple of apple slices would've made this soar to another stratosphere.

Cold weather makes me crave pasta so I zeroed in on the Neopolitan-style eggplant and tomato sauce over fettucine with parmigiano reggiano. Just typing the words "parmigiano reggiano" makes me cringe because it reminds me of the way Giada and Serena (the most annoying TV food show contestant ever) say it. Since the eggplant was so finely diced, it felt much like a meaty ragu. This hearty dish was just what I needed to thaw out.

I bet you think I'm going to tell you that B ordered lamb. He probably would have but it wasn't on the menu. Instead of having a lack of lamb pity party, he shocked me by ordering the roast chicken. In all of our meals together (and there have been thousands over the years) I can't remember B ordering chicken in a restaurant. It was a decision he would not regret as The Little Fountain Cafe's bird was juicy, nestled on a cozy bed of fried garlic. B is that guy who eats the garlic at the bottom of the garlic fries at the baseball game, so he was one happy camper with this dish. While the broccoli was forgettable, hidden beneath Mr. Clucky was a creamy potato gratin.

We were feeling a bit too full for dessert but we learned that our waitress was also the pastry chef. Never wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, we "forced" ourselves to try dessert. Life can be so hard sometimes. I am happy to report that the warm milk chocolate buttermilk cake with coffee ice cream was worth risking the buttons on our jeans for.

The next time you're looking to impress a date with a quiet, cozy dinner, don't forget about The Little Fountain Cafe. After dinner you can head upstairs to their bar, Angles, for a sip from one of the city's largest whiskey collections and a game of pool. If eating in Hansel and Gretel's hood is not what you're looking for, you can order from the full cafe menu (plus a bar menu) at Angles.

Second Thoughts from B

How many stories begin with the premise of a curious child stumbling across a portal to a fantastic new world? Thousands I am sure. And I hope there is room for one more because J and I just found DC's rabbit hole/wardrobe/pixy dust/flux capacitor/red pill/wolf pajamas/Zoltar machine.

In our culinary journeys throughout the city, I can't think of anything like the Little Fountain Cafe. It is a quaint (but watch your head on the low doorways!) oasis that transports you to a simpler time when vegetables were grown out back and paired with game from the neighboring forest. If it was a house, you'd call it a cottage. If there was a fireplace, it would be a hearth. If it was correct to say, you might refer to the waitress as a maiden. It was that kind of transformative place.

And the quality of the food was part of the whole experience. Simple, fresh, and perfectly prepared. As J likes to say, a place like this doesn't put roasted chicken on the menu unless it is really good. To take it a step further, a waitress doesn't recommend the roasted chicken unless it is really, really good. And it was. Normally I have a hard time ordering things that I can easily make myself but this was the perfect meal for this perfect escape from our normal lives.
Little Fountain Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jimmy John's

Sometimes you just want a sandwich. If you're burned out from fancy 3-course Restaurant Week meals and just want to fill your stomach fast, Jimmy John's is waiting for you. Jimmy John's has been serving sandwiches to the Midwest since 1983 and is beginning to expand into the DC area with locations in Alexandria, College Park, and Crystal City. Having fond memories of a Jimmy John's sandwich from a visit to Chicago, we decided to drop in to the new Crystal City location.

Their motto is "subs so fast, you'll freak!" While I don't think I freaked, I was impressed with the speed of both the cashier and the sandwich maker. By the time I put my wallet away, my sandwich was handed to me. With such speed, you might worry that the ingredients are sub-par or the quality suffers, but Jimmy John's promises to bake its bread fresh every day and slice their meats in the store.

The subs are a generous 8 inches and the menu runs the gamut from the Big John (pictured below) with medium rare shaved roast beef, mayo, lettuce, and tomato, to the Gourmet Veggie Club with a slew of veggies and twice the provolone. If you're still clinging to that low carb craze, you could skip the bread and get your sandwich wrapped in lettuce, but that would be a mistake. Jimmy John's shines because of its bread, so don't miss out.

This isn't Taylor Gourmet or the Italian Store, but it is speedy and convenient and a big step above Subway. So, when you just need a sandwich, Jimmy John is your man.

Second Thoughts From B

When J told me this morning that we'd be writing about Jimmy John's, I have to admit that I was at a loss. I just don't have much to say. It is just a sandwich, after all.

I'd love to tell you that I have this extra special affinity for Chicago from the summer I spent there, but that would be J. I'd love to tell you about being blown away by this incredible culinary gold mine. I'd even settle for a disaster story. But the fact of the matter is that none of that is true. Jimmy John's is just a sandwich. It won't blow you away, but it will deliver exactly what it is meant to do. Fill you up, and fast.

And maybe that is the storyline here. I doubt Jimmy John himself would tell you that this is the greatest sandwich you'll ever taste. Sure, the bread is notably soft and buttery, but this won't be appearing on the Food Network any time soon. Rather, it is a good sandwich, no more and no less. Like the caricature of someone named Jimmy John, what you lose in sophistication, you gain in reliability. You know what you're going to get and in a life that sometimes can resemble a box of chocolates, reliable isn't such a bad thing.
Jimmy John's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Our experience at Tosca redeemed my faith in the potential of Restaurant Week. When a restaurant does it right, Restaurant Week can be a great deal. So what did Tosca do right? First, they offered choices from their entire menu instead of some piddly little Restaurant Week menu with the cheapest items on it. Second, the service was efficient yet attentive, and the servers did not look down their noses at us or make us feel like riff raff that had been dragged off the street. Third, the food was outstanding top to bottom.

For the first course, you could select either an appetizer (7 choices) or a pasta (7 choices). B chose the black ink tagliatelle with jumbo lump crab meat ragu, artichokes and roasted garlic and was in pasta heaven. Perfectly al dente pasta paired with lump crab (that was as advertised: jumbo), equaled one of the best pasta dishes we've had in these parts.

Saving the pasta for my main course, I choose the prosciutto di parma with burrata cheese, marcona almonds, and pearl onions. This dish is a prime example of what happens when you take top-notch ingredients, put them together, and get out of their way. Silky, salty, savory perfection. Oh, and by the way, have you ever seen such big Restaurant Week appetizer portions?

Each day, Tosca features different grilled fish served with seasonal vegetables. B's eyes lit up when our waiter announced that they were offering a simply grilled salmon and his eyes rolled back in his head when he tasted this fish. Tosca's chef offered the antidote for the epidemic of overcookedfishitis that has been spreading like wildfire.

There are very few things I love more than noodles. While I'm an equal opportunity noodle eater, I have a special crush on wide noodles. Call me a chubby noodle chaser, if you will. When I saw pappardelle on the menu, I squealed. (Don't worry, it was a quiet, restaurant-appropriate squeal.) However, when I saw that the pappardelle was served with a rabbit ragu, I had a momentary crisis of conscience.

You see, when B was getting his PhD, he did super important research that was completely beyond my level of comprehension. Because I rarely understood any of the words he used when describing his research, I tended to focus in on those few words I knew. So, when B came home one day and said he was working with rabbit proteins, I was intrigued and proceeded to ask way too many questions about how he procured his vial of rabbit proteins and whether the rabbits have names and babies and whether he sings to them. (B says: The answer is that I never dealt with rabbits, just a tiny vial of clear liquid that had proteins from rabbit muscle in it)

So while I eat all kinds of animals, I have some weird soft spot for rabbits. At Tosca, my love of wide noodles won out over my love for rabbits, and I went for it. My dear, sweet rabbits, you made a really tasty ragu.

After such an incredible start, we were primed for a dessert course letdown. What restaurant doesn't serve a flourless chocolate cake? Snooze. However, we were happily proven wrong by Tosca's version with warm Nutella sauce and hazelnut gelato. I had to wrestle it away from B so I could taste it. And B doesn't even really like chocolate all that much!

My rice pudding with pineapple compote and coconut crumble was similarly epic. The coconut crumble added an interesting crunch and, when paired with the pineapple compote, reminded me of pina coladas served on white sand beaches.

I'm already planning our return trip to Tosca. Lucky for us, they have a $35 pre-theater menu that we can enjoy long after Restaurant Week is over.

Second Thoughts From B

The perfect Restaurant Week experience can be summarized thusly (I really just wanted an excuse to use "thusly"): That was a great meal that I'd happily to pay full price for.

Hear that DC restaurants? See how easy it is to grab another loyal customer? Just put aside the attitude and serve up the same good food you normally do. Simple, right?

Not all of us are VIPs that require the care and anxiety of a Top Chef judge's table. We get that. It's not like I'm the senior-most Supreme Court Justice or the mayor of the country's second largest city (both made appearances at Tosca while we were there). But we also don't need to be reminded that we are not the restaurant's top priority.

So kudos to Tosca's chefs but also to their service staff. In our eyes, you've won this edition of Restaurant Wars.
Ristorante Tosca on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 17, 2011

Deals on Wheels

Happy MLK day to you. In honor of Dr. King's legacy of service, we want to encourage you to check out Deals on Wheels Week over at local group-buying/good-doing website Deals for Deeds.

Each day this week, Deals for Deeds will feature a coupon for a 50% discount at a local food truck and 10% of each purchase will go directly to Miriam's Kitchen. Miriam's Kitchen "provides healthy, homemade meals and comprehensive case management services to homeless men and women in Washington, DC."

You already know we love food trucks and group buying sites (See Exhibits A, B, C, D, E, F and G) Adding a charity component makes it the perfect trifecta. Check out the lineup for the week:


Eat Wonky: Check out the Wonky Dog that B loved along with a drink for only $3.75!


Takorean: $10 for 6 Takos and 2 drinks


Solar Crepes: $5 for $10 worth of food at Solar Crepes


Sauca: $5 for 1 entree and 1 drink


DC Empanadas: 50% off


Sabor'a Street: $5 for 1 entree and 1 drink

Check them all out and let us know which ones we can't miss!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Busboys and Poets

Since we moved to DC, people have been telling us that we need to check out Busboys and Poets. I don't know why it took us over three years, but I'm glad we listened. Busboys and Poets was opened off U Street in 2005 by an Iraqi-American who sought to create a community gathering place to generate discussion about political and community issues. The venture has since grown into a group of three locations billed as restaurants/fair trade markets/bookstores/gathering places. Curious about the name? Apparently poet Langston Hughes was a busboy at DC's Wardman Park Hotel in the 1930s.

At the suggestion of friend and loyal reader Victoria, we ventured across the river to Shirlington to meet her and visiting buddy Clare at Busboys and Poets - the Virginia edition.

At first glance, the Shirlington location looked much more like a restaurant than a performance space or community gathering place. However, upon closer inspection I could see how the variety of seating options (couches, comfy chairs, tables) and wireless internet invites lingering and discussion. There is also a performance stage in a back room. After wandering through the fair trade market, we were seated at a cozy table and perused the menu.

Do you ever find yourself staring at a menu unable to choose because everything sounds good? That's how I felt at Busboys and Poets. I eventually just put the menu away because I kept changing my mind. I settled on the coconut tofu bites with plum sauce as an appetizer. Our group enjoyed the contrast of the coconut crunch and silky tofu. The plum sauce added a nice zing. The dish is also vegan, if that's your thing.

To drink, I ordered the DC Tap Water cocktail partly because I liked the name. The greenish/blue concoction was a fruity mix of too many ingredients that somehow worked themselves into a nice beverage. The chicken salad sandwich was made up of free range chicken, apples, raisins, walnuts, and avocado on two pillowy pieces of multigrain bread. Not a groundbreaking sandwich, but a very solid execution of a classic. I was bummed that they were out of sweet potato fries, but the regular fries did the trick.

B fell in love with his vegetarian spinach and pesto lasagna with garlic toast. A perfect dish for this blustery weather.

We couldn't decide what to order for dessert. When this happens, B and I play a game where we take turns eliminating one item from the menu until one remains. Thankfully our friends put up with our weirdness and participated in the game, leading to the selection of the delicious chocolate mousse pie. Nice work team.

Second Thoughts from B

As I write this, I feel somewhat sheepish. First, I've lived in DC for 4.5 years and this was my first visit to Busboys and Poets. What's worse, we went and didn't get to sample the "poets" scene for which they are famous.

But I can comment on the "busboys" part of Busboys and Poets, and if the bites I sampled are any indication, the food alone would make it a success. From the vegan tofu to the vegetarian lasagna to the cool hippie coffee shop vibe, it felt like Berkeley fine dining. (To be clear to those who haven't spent much time in Berkeley recently, the current selection of eateries is quite good)

Busboys and Poets fit us perfectly. It was the perfect middle ground between fast food and fine dining, and felt comfortable and familiar. For the two of you out there who have not been to Busboys and Poets, think of the Central Perk from "Friends" with a bigger menu (and hopefully better talent). While you might not find Jennifer Aniston there, don't be surprised if we become regulars.
Busboys and Poets on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Eat Wonky

Upon our return from 2 weeks in Southeast Asia, we were craving something other than noodles and spring rolls. We were also dealing with mean cases of jetlag and not feeling up to sitting upright in a restaurant. Luckily, the Eat Wonky food truck saved the day and welcomed us back to DC in a tasty way.

While Eat Wonky was our first meal back in the U.S., it should be noted that the wonkification has its roots in the USA's tophat, Canada. The truck serves poutine which tastes a whole lot better than it sounds. It is a dish originating in Quebec that consists of fries, topped with cheese curds, covered in gravy. Ok that still sounds terrible, but trust us, it isn't.

Craving simplicity, I ordered the grilled cheese sandwich. One bite in and I knew this wasn't an average grilled cheese. For starters, the sandwich squeaks. Is there anything more fun than a squeaky sandwich? For those unfamiliar with eating cheese curds (probably everyone outside Canada and the midwest), they squeak when you bite into them. When cheese curds are grilled between slices of perfectly crusty bread and jazzed up with crushed red pepper, you get a squeaky, salty bundle of love. Sorry Big Cheese Truck, but the Eat Wonky grilled cheese is king.

Because poutine isn't dangerous enough for your health on its own, Eat Wonky serves it up on top of a hot dog. Even B, the master of eating messy stuff with his hands, admitted that this was a knife and fork job. From the bun to the squeaky cheese, this was an allstar dog and something completely different than your typical frank.

Eat Wonky was exactly what we needed to lift our spirits after a rough 45 hours of traveling. The cherry on top? The guy serving up the food was the nicest food truck guy we've encountered. Thanks for welcoming us home.

Second Thoughts from B

Move over Snap, Crackle, and Pop, you've just lost your monopoly on "talking" food. In Eat Wonky and their squeaky cheese, our Northern neighbors have introduced their greatest contribution to DC since hockey.

Never mind that it tastes good. This meals speaks to you. After culinary adventures in Vietnam and Cambodia that would make most squeal (fried insects, eel liver soup, durian ice cream, mud snails, pig knuckle soup), it was nice to eat something that elicited giggling rather than the "close your eyes and brace yourself" face.

I'm not advocating that Eat Wonky becomes your every day lunch stop (Surgeon General's warning: regular consumption of hot dogs covered in cheese curds, french fries, and gravy may turn you into John Candy). But for a special treat to welcome us back to the land of the overindulgent, we couldn't have done better. In other words, this was worth the calories.
Eat Wonky (Mobile Cart) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ray's the Steaks

The first time we went to Ray's Hell Burger, B high-fived the guy manning the grill (note: this was before the Obama rush when you could do such a thing). So, when I was in search of a restaurant for his birthday dinner, I knew I couldn't go wrong heading to another of Michael Landrum's "Ray's" establishments. I chose Ray's the Steaks East River.

With successful steak houses in Arlington and Silver Spring, Michael Landrum ventured east of the Anacostia to open his latest edition. It is a fantastic addition to a neighborhood whose only other sit-down establishment is a Denny's. The restaurant has a parking lot next door that saves you from circling to look for street parking. That was much appreciated on this frigid winter evening.

The atmosphere is casual and the prices are affordable. Steaks come with a dinner salad, baked potato (or choice of side), and a vegetable. The menu is straight and to the point. There are only two appetizers so we decided to try them both. First was a creamy cup of crab bisque. It was so rich that it might be more accurate to call it cream with a side of crab. An indulgence best reserved for special occasions.
Next was a plate of beer-battered jumbo shrimp whose crackling coating tasted almost tempura-like. The size of the shrimp (that's a full sized dinner plate!) was a sign of things to come: Ray's doesn't skimp on portions.

B and I made a food-sharing plan so we could try a signature steak as well as a non-steak item. B ordered the baby back ribs with a side of the sweet potato fries we fell in love with at Ray's Hell Burger. The rib meat packed a peppery punch and were flavorful enough to have been served without the added flavor from the tangy sauce. Still, that didn't stop us from dunking the ribs and fries in the sauce until we were stuffed silly.

From the steak menu, I ordered the classic rib eye. It was served a perfectly pink medium rare and behind those perfect diamond sear marks was one of the most tender, flavorful steaks I've ever eaten. The broccoli and baked potato were nothing special, but that just left more room to devour the steak.
We were beyond stuffed and couldn't even look at the dessert menu but managed to find room for the two small rice krispies treats that were presented with the check. Speaking of the check, I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that the subtotal was under $50. What a deal! Now that was something that made B's birthday a happy one indeed.

Second Thoughts from B

My love for Ray's Hell Burger has been well documented on this blog but ever since the President visited, it has ballooned beyond the charming hole-in-the-wall that it once was. The days when you could identify, speak with, and even high-five your burger architect are long gone.

Maybe it is all in my head but the increased demand seems to have decreased the consistent, mind-blowing awesomeness of the burgers. Let me be clear, I'll still argue to the death that they are the best in the land, but something is missing from those first few visits. It is like that underground band that you followed from coffee house to neighbor's basement. When they make it big, you'll always reminisce about those times when you were one of the enlightened few who could see their talent.

And that's why I'm so excited to have found Ray's the Steaks East River. Not only was the ribeye high-fiveable, but we were once again eating at a place that had that undiscovered, diamond in the rough feel to it. Hell, there was not one, but two people wearing Santa hats. When's the last time you saw that at a top notch DC steakhouse?

So what I'm saying is that I can't more highly recommend a place so long as you are not a celebrity that will draw hoards of people to my new found oasis (I'm sorry Mr. President, this would include you).

As J said, everything is big and bold at Ray's. The crab sauce... errr, soup should have come with antacid while the shrimp needed a forklift. I couldn't shut up about the ribs with their unique and distinguishable flavors. But let's get to the steak. J and I both love prime rib and were hoping that Ray's could oblige. Since the prime rib was unavailable, we settled for the ribeye that was amazingly as tender as a great cut of prime rib... and just as flavorful. It was almost as if there were no muscle fibers to add toughness. The only thing left was flavor.

I don't know how Ray's does it. I just know that I've found a new favorite place in DC. Just be careful who you tell.
Ray's the Steaks at East River on Urbanspoon