Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cantina Marina

Cantina Marina has a lot going for it: waterside location, lively atmosphere, large bar area, TVs to watch your favorite sport, great people watching.  Just don't go for the food.

Those of you who have lived in DC through your 20's are probably thinking, "What idiot goes to Cantina Marina to eat? These idiots."

After hitting the driving range at East Potomac Park, we were in search of dinner.  Cantina Marina fit the bill since it was A) close, B) had available street parking, and C) would accept us in sweaty golf clothes.

We hovered around for about 10 minutes waiting for a table to open up.  I'm not a fan of places that you have to pounce on tables.  I'd prefer to put my name on a list and wait in an orderly line.  We practically had to sit in these poor girls' laps while they paid their bill so we could score a seat.
We were starving and immediately ordered a couple of drinks and tacos.  Fish tacos for B and shrimp tacos for me.  To tell you how much B liked this meal, when he was uploading photos for this post he said "Hey, what was the name of that place with the terrible tacos?"

With a location so close to the fish market, why did the fish and shrimp taste pre-frozen? There was nothing redeeming about these tacos except the view we enjoyed while eating them.  The chips and salsa that we paid $4 for featured straight-from-the-bag stale chips and salsa that could be mistaken for Ragu tomato sauce (maybe it was?).

Grab a drink and soak in the view at Cantina Marina, but if you get hungry, do yourself a favor and walk down the road to the fish market and eat dinner there.

Second Thoughts From B

Whether you're a biblical scholar or child of the 60's, you know that "to everything there is a season."  There is "a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep." And yes, there is a time to go to Cantina Marina... but for the married couple in their 30s looking for food and not digits (or whatever the kids exchange these days), that time has passed.

Expectations are a funny thing.  We came in thinking the kitchen would take full advantage of the seafood bounty next door.  Rather, its purpose was to help soak up the booze and keep the party going.

But don't get me wrong, I'm not surprised that Cantina Marina was packed and I wouldn't even be surprised if I found myself back there again.  As a place to gather with a group of friends, watch the game, enjoy a beer or 8, and relax on a warm summer night, there are few more appealing locations.  I can't vouch for the margaritas, but the place seems like it would make Jimmy Buffett proud.

In other words, romantic place to celebrate your anniversary while watching the sunset?  No.  Bar to celebrate your kickball team's championship?  Yes.  Place to take your parents when they come visit?  Probably not.  Late night destination when your frat brothers are crashing on your couch for the weekend?  Definitely.
Cantina Marina on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 8, 2012


We're like a broken record telling you that you can't find great Chinese food on DC's Chinablock.  This article in the Washington City Paper made me wonder if we were missing something.  If big name chefs like Mike Isabella (Graffiato) and Scott Drewno (The Source) have found Chinese food they like in Chinatown, maybe we just need to look harder.

I decided to give Ming's a try for takeout after one particularly long day at work.  I was immediately impressed with the clean, and modern decor and the cheerful hostess. I placed my order and asked her to have it ready in an hour so that I could pick it up on the way back from acupuncture (side note: Dr. Wu on 6th street is the best).

An hour later, the hostess was waiting for me by the door with a smile and two giant bags of food. I ordered extra so we could have leftovers for lunches during the work week and a $50 order at Ming's got us enough food for about 7 large meals.

We tried the following dishes:
  • Eggplant in Hot Garlic Sauce - really liked the sweet and spicy sauce on the eggplant. It was drowning in sauce but that's nothing a bowl of steamed rice can't cure.
  • Ma Po Tofu - Perfectly cooked tofu but the sauce lacked the kick that we're used to. Next time I would ask them to turn up the heat.
  • Chicken Pan-Fried Noodle - Wins the award for most confusing dish.  Normally we order pan-fried noodles or "Hong Kong style" chow mein and get a dish of veggies, meat, and crispy noodles coated in a sauce. When you toss the noodles, the sauce softens them up.  Ming's serves a box of fried noodles along with a huge portion of what appeared to be egg drop soup with mushrooms.  Very tasty but just not what we expected.
  • Crispy Spicy Pork Chop - Source Chef Scott Drewno recommended this dish in the City Paper article and for good reason.  Just like the name says, they are both crispy and spicy.  This is the kind of dish I could get addicted to.  Watch out for the bones. You don't want to chip a tooth.
Are we ready to proclaim Ming the king of Chinablock?  Not until we've done a proper head to head comparison with Mike Isabella's favorite New Big Wong. However, the next time someone asks for a Chinese food recommendation in Chinatown proper, I'll send them to Ming's.

Second Thoughts from B

I don't know that I have any more insights or anecdotes about Chinese food left in me to tell.  It seems like every other post is about traveling to China with my family, some old wives tale from my grandmother, or bemoaning the exodus of Chinese restaurants to Maryland.  But I can tell you that I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity of our order.  Quality and quantity.  Hmmm, maybe I do have another story to tell. 

My grandmother loved Chinese food.  More specifically, she loved gathering the family together, planning the entire menu (I don't think I looked at a Chinese food menu until I was in my 20s), and watching her grandkids delight in the flavors of the "old country." 

But perhaps even more than that, she loved getting a good deal.  Most grandmothers greet their grandkids with a warm hug and the standard hi and how are you...  In my case, I often got that hug but it usually was accompanied by the current price per pound of produce from the grocery store.  Nothing says, "good to see you" like the going rate of cantaloupe at Safeway...

Anyway, my Pau Pau (grandmother in Cantonese) would have loved Ming's.  Quality and quantity equals value.  Delicious, delicious, value.
Ming's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 4, 2012

Marine Barracks Parade

Check another one off of the DC Bucket List!  Every Friday night during the summer months, the Marine Barracks Washington (also known as "8th and I" due to its location) hosts a public Evening Parade featuring the U.S. Marine Band, U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps,  the Marine Corps Color Guard, the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, Ceremonial Marchers, and LCpl. Chesty XIII, the official mascot of Marine Barracks Washington (a bulldog).

The one hour and fifteen minute event is packed with great hats (above) and patriotic tunes (below).
We were in awe of the precision and discipline of the hundreds of marching Marines...

and spellbound by the skill of the Silent Drill Platoon.

If you want to get in on the patriotic action, you can go online and request a free ticket here.  There are still slots left for July and August, but don't delay!  We booked online in March for a reservation in May.  If you can't plan that far ahead, you can show up at the General Admission line at the Main Gate and take your chances that they'll have room for you once the ticketed groups have been seated.
Don't miss your chance to view one of DC's best free hidden gems.

Second Thoughts from B

My mother loves pomp and circumstance more than anyone I know.  Much more.  She is the one person who looks forward to those interminable graduation ceremonies just because that means she'll get to hear an extra 45 minutes of the graduation march.  Add highly decorated uniforms and intricately choreographed rifle tossing to the military band's soundtrack, and she's more giddy than a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

I can't say that J or I share my mother's immense enthusiasm, but we sure appreciate the pageantry, precision, and patriotism of the Marine Corps that is on display every Friday night.  But putting all alliteration aside (see what I did there!), you can't call yourself a Washingtonian until you've spent a night at 8th and I.  In many ways, our city is built on a long history of proud military tradition.  To get a chance to celebrate it through live music on a warm summer night makes you pull those shoulders back, stand up straight, and be proud of your country.  Or maybe that's just the influence of the latest Chevy commercial. Either way, the Evening Parade is just one more (free!) thing that makes DC a special place.