Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A little change and a lot of food

It is said that a little change in scenery can go a long way. For poor working Joes (and Joanne’s?) such as myself, a change in atmosphere is necessary to prevent one from drowning in sea of political high-mindedness and twelve hour work days. Luckily, there are roads – roads that not only suck people into the beltway, but expel them out, out into the real world.

It is out in the real world that that I’ve had some of the best food I’ve eaten since I’ve moved from south Florida back in the summer of 2002. Here is a short list of places that I’ve visited that lie outside the beltway, and whose food will help you forget the drudgery of metro delays and congressional filibusters.

- Culpeper, Virginia: Located seventy miles southwest of the heart of DC, Culpeper was one of our first finds. A small town slightly off the beaten path, Culpeper has incredible charm, and some incredible restaurants. Our favorite restaurant in Culpeper is, It’s About Thyme, which serves American and European style cuisine. Their portions are plentiful and their bread is the best we’ve ever had. Their only downside is that they have strange operating hours, so be sure to call ahead before you trek out there.

For dessert, check out Frost Café, a small dinner that somehow belongs in a place like Culpeper. Quite possibly one of the best and worst dining experiences we’ve ever had, Frost is a café like a café should be: crazy waitresses serving you cheap food that’s no good for you.

- Ellicott City, Maryland: Located almost directly between Baltimore and Washington DC, Ellicott City doesn’t look like the kind of place that’s sandwiched between two large cities. The old town portion basically stretches down one main street (conveniently called Main Street) and is loaded with restaurants and antique shops.

Stop off at Sweet Cascades, a local candy shop that makes their own chocolates and try a large quarter of a granny smith apple, covered in white chocolate, caramel, streusel and a simple sugar frosting; it’s like eating an apple pie covered in chocolate. Johnny’s Bistro on Main is another great find. I was able to get a great bowl of chili with a sizable chunk of cornbread for a more than reasonable price. Finally, polish it all off at Bean Hollow Café with a white chocolate hot chocolate, quite possibly the most delicious warm drink I’ve ever had.

- Occoquan, VA: Only twenty miles from Washington, old town Occoquan has a great array of shops and restaurants, and a wonderful atmosphere. A great place to take a quick walk through, be sure to visit Mom’s Apple Pie. At Mom’s, you’ll find a great selection of homemade, all-natural pies and pastries at very reasonable prices. Our favorite selection was a bag full of cinnamon-sugar coated pie crust, broken up into manageable pieces. Wonderfully light and buttery, they provided a great snack for the drive home.

There are plenty of other places just outside the beltway that are worth visiting. So the next time you have a couple of hours, a couple of spare gallons of gas, and an empty stomach, venture forth out into the real world, you’ll be glad you did.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The sign never lies

Sundays are often my favorite days to eat, giving us one last chance before the week to head out and explore, with complete disregard for time or responsibility. Breakfast is often slept through, leaving brunch for the ambitious, and lunch for the rest of us, as the first meal of the day.

It was that Sunday lunch that brought me and a couple of friends to Earl’s Sandwiches – a grain of sand in an ocean of strip malls that line Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, Virginia. Lured by sign out front printed on an outstretched finger declaring that we should, “eat here”, we wondered on in and took a glance at the menu.

Earl’s, named after the Duke that invented the sandwich, has plenty to choose from. From it’s own signature sandwiches such as The Pearl, which sounds like thanksgiving between two pieces of bread, and The Mona Lisa, which proves that vegetarian options can be just as filling, to American classics such as the BLT and the cheeseburger, the menu is simple enough to be welcoming, but comprehensive enough to welcome any picky eater.

I decide on one of the American classics; roast beef and cheddar on sourdough, served with a horseradish cream. Everything about the sandwich screams fresh. Earl’s roasts their own pork, turkey and beef, and they use only fresh local organic bread. The sourdough is wonderfully toasted and lightly buttered, filled with wonderfully tender slices of roast beef all covered by sharp cheddar and a nicely tangy horseradish sauce.

Sides come separately, but I decided to skip the pasta salad or coleslaw and opt instead for the fresh hand cut French fries – noticing a large pile of newly cut potatoes sitting near a fryer in the kitchen. The fries were a bit under-fried, yet still very eatable with the assistance of some malt vinegar and catsup. Seasoned with just a bit of salt, there was very little uniformity in the cut of the potato, which I suppose is a result of the fresh cutting, and a good thing, but it also left me with several poor excuses for fries within my heaping basket.

For around eleven dollars, which bought me an IBC root beer, a nice sized basket of fries, and a sandwich with a nice pickle on the side, Earl’s turned out to be quite the steal. Whether you’re eating in or carrying out, visiting for a Sunday lunch or a Tuesday dinner, Earl’s local charm and delicious sandwiches might make you think twice before you walk in to another one of those cookie cutter, overpriced, “gourmet” sandwich joints again.

Earl's Delicious Sandwiches
2605 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA

Thursday, January 25, 2007

This isn't how it's supposed to be...

A great dining experience generally consists of three factors that come together to leave one fat, happy, and wanting more. The restaurant’s food, service, and atmosphere all contribute to the overall experience of the diner. Unfortunately, La Tasca, a tapas restaurant in Arlington failed on all three accounts.

The food itself was uninspired and underwhelming. Garlic bread came out drenched in oil and pretty much sans garlic; stale and chewy it was almost impossible to eat. In fact, a couple of pieces went untouched as our table quickly lost interest in the slick uneatable bricks of bread. A dish of scallops over tomatoes, peppers and garlic was again too oily, headlined by scallops the size of peas that tasted like they were left in the oven for a few minutes too long.

The sub-par food was almost bad enough to mask nearly equally sub-par service, which was only topped by an atmosphere that combined worst of an Adams Morgan bar and a Cheesecake Factory.

I wish I had something positive to say about La Tasca, but the fact that my entire party stopped eating halfway through our meal in order to watch an episode of The Simpsons playing on the TV at the bar should be some indication that La Tasca is the antithesis of a great dining experience.

2900 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201

Phone: (703) 812-9120

Monday, January 22, 2007

I think I see him!

The other people at my table didn’t know what I was looking for. Stretching my neck out, looking over one of my co-workers, I stared at the door into the kitchen, hoping for a glimpse of him.

Yes, I had seen him on Iron Chef America earlier in the week, but that was in my living room – this was slightly different. Finally, the door swung open, and out walked an African man wearing an immaculate white shirt and sporting a neatly trimmed patch of facial hair. My accompaniment still couldn’t understand my fascination, but then again, they hadn’t had a bite of food yet.

I usually don’t do lunch out with my co-workers, but through a complicated series of events, myself and three others were owed a lunch, and so I insisted on trying Morou’s Farrah Olivia.

Morou, the former executive chef at the infamous Signatures, has found a new place to call home in Old Town Alexandria. Blending French, American, and African cuisines, Morou has recaptured so much of the creativity and flair that made him a near household name here in the district.

The meal started off strong with a basket containing a mix of slices of sourdough and raisin bread. They were served with a set of four or five dipping sauces that included a pesto that tasted so fresh that it almost had a slight grassy taste to it, and a butternut squash spread that could have been the base for a meal.

After the bread was cleared, I promptly received my first course, a set of goat cheese pot stickers sitting in a beautiful pool of lemongrass broth with a few strands of fennel. The pot stickers were nicely cooked, allowing the goat cheese to be the primary focus of the dish. I could have used more than two pot stickers, as they were a bit small, but I think that just proves how much I enjoyed them.

The main course was a pair of nice sized scallops atop a bed of slightly spicy Mexican chorizo; an interesting mix of sausage, peppers and tomatoes. The scallops were very well cooked – not the best I’ve ever had, but still quite good and the chorizo complimented them near perfectly. The only negative of the main course was the accompanying roasted potatoes, which were pretty flavorless and a little overcooked.

Looking past this, I looked forward to desert; a dish simply called “Berry”, which consisted of a small sliver of wonderfully light and fluffy French toast, with a nice mix of red and blackberries.

As I finished up my last few berries, I couldn’t help but notice Morou setting up dishes for a photographer who had been taking pictures of food and people eating food for the past hour.

I haven’t seen a whole lot of chefs, much less a whole lot of celebrity chefs in action, but Morou looked like he was simply having fun. As we gathered our coats, and made our way back to the office, I couldn’t help but notice the smiles on the faces of my party, and those just finishing their meals – the diners were having just as much fun as Morou.

The food wasn’t perfect, and this young restaurant is still working out the kinks, but I’d consider any restaurant that I leave with a smile on my face one worth entering again.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Excuses, Excuses...

I've got plenty to write about, but am glued to my television to watch Alton Brown's Feasting on Asphalt - quite possibly the best thing ever filmed and shown on television.

By tomorrow night I will have hopefully posted on Murou's new restaurant Farrah Olivia, a disastrous attempt at tapas, and maybe even a little on Mr. Brown himself.

Until then, sitting in front of my TV sounds like a really good excuse to stay in on a Saturday night...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Um, Excuse Me

Am I in paradise? I think so. Long story short, I'm doing a workshop for Smith that involves "reflecting on life goals" and "contemplating the meaning of success." But that is neither here nor there. Where it is, though, is at the Egremont Inn in the Birkshires... our advisors for the program thought we could better understand our relationship with Smith's notion of success if we ran away to an old inn and ate amazing food and, y'know, "retreated" a little. Fine with us! But this isnt about the inn (which is wicked cool and gorgeous and has a ghost! and real fireplaces!)-- this is about the food. Which, by the way, Smith is paying for. Good deal!
Dinner last night was in the side dining room, at round tables set with white table clothes and beautiful rustic china and real tulips on the tables. (Real tulips!) The bread was delicious-- a sweet, cakey cornbread that definitely topped Georgia Brown's, and a salty rosemary foccacia with olive oil. Satisfying and wonderful We had our choice of 5 or 6 appetizers, 6 or 7 entrees, and dessert. Um, Restaurant Week much? The appetizers ranged from a butternut squash and apple soup to a crab and shrimp salad. I had the fried scallops with housemade tarter and cocktail sauces, which were wonderfully light and crispy and served snuggled into a white cloth napkin on a plate to keep them warm. I think I counted about 8 morsels of goodness-- perfect. Entree options included salmon, chicken or veal parmesean, and a couple others, but I opted for the exotic-sounding "curried chicken with cremini mushrooms" which turned out to be less curry and more just savory but excellent. Two large paillards (is that the right word? i mean "thin chicken breasts") butter-sauted to be a little crispy on the outside but still tender inside, stacked on top of a suitably plain risotto, with a small stack of thin green beans to the side, all luciously smothered in a buttery/salty/balsamic-y/mushroomy sauce. Pretty much perfect. And then dessert-- lots of sundae options, fruit, chocolate cake, etc. I chose (clearly) the brownie sundae-- a thick, rich, fudgy brownie covered in a perfect scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and gooey hot fudge. That doesnt really need any more explanation, but suffice it to say, I was a fat and happy camper. And then after dinner we all settled down to play apples to apples with a bottle of red wine, and the inn keeper, this amazing old woman, came out with a *better* bottle of something made with grapes older than Christ (thats what she said!) and made us all taste it for free. I'm in food-and-wine-and-old-inn induced heaven. I might never leave.

The Egremont Inn
10 Old Sheffield Rd.
P.O. Box 418S.
Egremont, MA. 01258

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Slow News Day

It was a slow food day today, but I'll recap three quick items:

1) The WaPo food chat was quality reading, per usual. You can find the link to the page with the link at the top right hand corner of this page. Read it - it'll be the best thing you do all day.

2) The Kitchenette Diaries, written by friend and co-worker Lisa Bo Feng is finally updated, and with one of the best food pictures I've seen in a long time. Also, please reference the link above.

3) As part of a promise being collected on from my boss, the VP of the firm I work for is taking a group of us to Farrah Olivia in Old Town Alexandria on Friday for lunch. They're still doing restaurant week, but I've got my fingers crossed that I'll be able to choose from what looks like a great menu. See link below.

That is all.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It's the little things...

Just a short post and a quick thought, which makes sense because it's about the little things. Today two of my wonderful co-workers and myself ventured down King Street for Pho for lunch. Now we had visited this establishment (which shall remain unnamed because I don't remember what it's called) twice before and have always had problems with the service. The food is decent - we've gotten both Pho and sushi, but never with prompt service.

Today being a cold day was a perfect candidate for the warmth of a big bowl of Pho. If you've had Pho before, or know of it, you know that it usually comes with a nice plate of sprouts, lime, and mint. However, the establishment in question just doesn't understand that some people like mint, a lot of it, in their Pho. After receiving just a few small leaves of mint, one of my co-workers asked for more. Did more arrive? No; not until a half hour later when I was eating some Pho of my own and had to ask myself.

Yet, when the mint finally arrived (around forty minutes after the initial request), it was the wrong kind of mint.

Yes lunch is a busy time, and yes servers can forget sometimes. But to deny someone a major ingredient in their dish just isn't acceptable. It's a small request unfulfilled; and that just shows that the little things are sometimes what keep people from eating at your restaurant.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bolt from the Blue

It is said that lightning never strikes twice, that memory deceives, and that there is too much of a good thing. Whoever coined these phrases obviously has never eaten at Zola. Attached to the International Spy Museum, Jill and I visited Zola last August for Restaurant Week (my review from my other blog: Wondering around DC on Friday, playing hooky and working up an appetite, fate brought us back to Zola.

We sat at the bar, lucky enough to get the only two seats not taken by hungry restaurant week visitors, and were pleased to hear that unlike August, we had the entire menu at our mercy. After the initial shock of culinary choice wore off, decisions were made and appetizers delivered. Otherwise unthinkable at $15, but feasible due to the restaurant week deal, I started off with the grilled flat bread. Covered with incredibly delicate smoked salmon, goat cheese and red onion, the flat bread covered an entire dinner plate and was a well-balanced, absolutely delicious way to start a meal.

The main course was a grilled ahi tuna gyro, which was a playfully delectable twist on a Greek favorite. The tuna, well seasoned and perfectly cooked to the degree where it felt like I was eating lamb, made the dish, which was served with a side of al dente orzo pasta. The pita was dry and tasteless, but still edible enough not to detract from my enjoyment.

The meal came to a conclusion with a wonderful peanut butter trifle, which somehow managed to walk the line between richly dense and feather light. A mix of peanut butter cream, chocolate cookies and whipped cream the dish was as beautiful as it was delicious, and made the woman sitting next to me declare that she just should have ordered dessert – all of them.

Again we left with smiles on our faces and wonderful food in our stomachs, hoping that next time fate brings us back to Zola, lightning strikes for a third time.


Way down yonder...

To some, the words “southern country cooking” and “fine dining” are a contradiction. “Southern country cooking” conjures up images of small roadside institutions serving up fried chicken by the pound, and grits by the gallon. “Fine dining” however brings to mind small portions, high prices, and foreign ingredients.

It’s always nice to visit a place that attempts to bridge the gap between simple and elegant, and it’s even nicer when that gap is bridged successfully.

Upon entering Georgia Brown’s it’s very easy to get a sense of the balance between the cuisine’s rural roots and restaurant’s urban location. The colors are warm and inviting, though the intricate metal artwork strung from the ceiling took a bit getting used to. I wasn’t sure if this was due to the artwork, but the ceiling itself seemed low, which made the claustrophobe in me a bit uncomfortable.

Yet, we didn’t choose Georgia Brown’s for the décor; we chose it for the food. After a total wait of about twenty minutes from the time of our reservation (that includes about ten minutes until we were seated and ten until water and bread came – slightly understandable when considering that we were a party of ten) the first morsels of food arrived at our table.

For some reason that day I was craving cornbread, and Georgia Brown’s didn’t disappoint. A heaping plate of buttermilk biscuits and cornbread was brought out to the table with some whipped butter. Both were slightly warm and complimented well with the butter. The cornbread was wonderfully sweet, with an appropriate amount of grease to stain everything I touched for the rest of the evening.

After the bread was consumed, our first course arrived. I got a rabbit gumbo, which was actually my first time experiencing either rabbit or gumbo, so I was able to knock down two birds with that one stone. The gumbo had a great kick to it, and was much better tasting than it was looking – having a grayish-browning appearance. It may have looked like gruel, but it defiantly had me asking if I may have some more.

The main course was a BBQ basted short rib on a bed of potatoes with asparagus. The meat itself was quite good, very tender and flavorful. The potatoes, though supposedly “cheddar & chive scented twice baked”, appeared simply mashed with a few chives sprinkled on top. The dish itself came together well enough. The food was lukewarm, but again, I can almost excuse that on our party being ten people – almost.

Finally; dessert. I chose the banana pudding, or as my accompaniment called it, “nanner puddin’”. The pudding itself was fairly pedestrian, saved only by a couple of slices of banana and two vanilla wafers. I’m not sure how you make pudding sexy, but it doesn’t look like much of an effort was made to do so.

So after the check was sorted out and my car was claimed I can honestly say I felt reasonably satisfied by the experience. Nothing was especially spectacular. There wasn’t a single bite of food I ate that I probably couldn’t have made myself.
At some places I feel as if the gap between simplicity and style was bridged. The touch of rabbit in the gumbo, the modern décor, and the cured ham wrapped around the asparagus all served to add a touch of class to a meal that I would have felt just as comfortable eating in a shack on the side of the road in the deep south.

Yet, in retrospect, it was places where the gap wasn’t bridged, like the banana pudding or the lifeless mashed potatoes that left me slightly disappointed, but somehow wanting more.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

"We go there"

To Zola, that is. After wandering the city for entirely too long on Friday, first in search of the elusive Breadline and then in search of just about anything, we ended up at Zola, because basically its amazing. Not having reservations, we sat at the bar, which is classy and comfortable and, fortuitously, does complete food service. lovely. now, it is important to note that at Zola, "restaurant week" translates loosely into "order anything on the menu and get fat and happy." which we did. I started with the corn and mussel chowder which was basically the perfect food for a rainy day. surprisingly light and delicate for a chowder, it was full of mussels (at least 5 whole ones swimming around in there) and sweet corn, and harbored a delightful little mountain of corn flan right in the middle. it was still hot and steaming and pretty much amazing. god i love zola. then i moved on to the crabcake sandwhich. as i said to ant, i'm partial to old-bay-savory maryland crabcakes, which this was not, but it was still wonderful-- lots of sweet meat, not much filler, and fried crispy without being oily. it was served on a house-made "sticky" roll, butterry and soft, with lettuce and tomato, and tangy honey mustard dressing. To the side was an amazing little dish of coleslaw, which was flavored with wasabi and ginger and i probably could have eaten a gallon of it. and then the life-altering part: fried pickles. two big spears of dill pickle, battered and turned into pure deliciousness. delightful. (aside: i love the plating and service at zola too-- so casual without being simple, and friendly without being pushy. comfortable.) for dessert i had the flight of butterscotches, which i've been thinking about since i saw them on the menu last time we were at zola, for restaurant week in august. the three little puddings came plated on a beautiful three- welled glass slab, each labled by way of hand-written icing on a cookie placed next to it, announcing the kind of fancy-schmancy scotch that flavored it. my untrained pallate couldnt detect any difference between the three, but they were each lovely and creamy and just the right amount of salty-- like jello pudding snacks pumped full of some amazing deliciousness-steroid. the whole lunch, start to finish, took just about an hour, which was perfect timing, and you just cant beat having the entire menu to choose from. the food was fresh, pretty, yummy, (seemingly) healthy, and in portions big enough that i didn't need dinner (miraculous!). pretty much i love zola. thats right, we go there.

800 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20002

Georgia Brown's

Yay! I'm beating ant to the punch. so georgia's browns was Thursday night, for restaurant week. we got all dressed up and, typically, arrived half an hour early. we left time for parking, but thankfully GB's supplies valets-- much appreciated. we were meeting a big crew of people, and it was early, so we hung around in the snazzy bar for a while. the restaurant is fairly small, and exudes an earthy-yet-hip vibe facilitated by curving cherry wood walls, amber wall-sconces, and ceiling art that somehow invokes both metallic linguine and the underside of a mangrove tree. pretty shwanky. once our whole crew (10 of us) was assembled, we waited another 15 minutes or so past our reservation time, but then we were herded to our comfortably placed white-tableclothed round table, which shot me down memory lane directly to 11th grade prom. anyway. drinks were ordered (i had an over-priced mai tai-- yummy, but disapointingly weak) and bread was delivered-- flaky biscuits and corn bread muffins with sweet whipped butter. tasty. although our reservation was later in the evening, service was a little slow, and we didnt place our dinner orders for at least 20 minutes after we'd been seated. i had the oysters rockefeller and the talapia. the oysters were fine-- three good-sized, very fresh specimens topped with rather bland little hunks of crawfish, a little cheddar cheese, and some un-cooked green-ness-- watercress, maybe? in any case, they were bland. and cold. but maybe they were supposed to bland and cold, in which case, they were perfect. the talapia was also fine-- a large hunk of juicy, breaded fish, deliciously deep fried and topped with a pile of tomato/olive chutney/salsa business. the salsa was a little too salty for the fish, and there wasnt enough to have a little with every bite, but i do like just about anything involving olives, so i was happy. under the fish was a sweet-potato date "salad" which seemed more to be chunks of luke-warm, plain sweet potatoes. next to the whole shebang was a mass of skinny little haricots verts, a tad oily but fine. sensing a theme here? "fine." all in all, the talapia was good. it had clearly been sitting out a while before delivery, which didnt help its cause, but that can be forgiven, and i didnt really feel that all the individual elements went together astoundingly well (maybe i'm just unsophisticated, but sweet potatoes and sour green olives is a weird combination), but it wasn't bad. maybe a 7/10. dessert was a peanut-butter-cup bread pudding, and bread pudding being one of my favorite genres of food, this held promise. it came as a muffin-sized mass of ooey chocolatey goodness, tasting much like a white-bread peanut-butter sandwhich covered in hershey's syrup. not refined per say, but satisfying. i wasnt particularly excited about the sauce that came on the plate under it, which was kind of a watery chocolate mess. think slightly-congealed hot chocolate. but considering how dense the pudding was, i guess it did the job. our dinner took over 2 hours from start to finish, which seems excessive, but the company was great (not just "fine") and the atmosphere pleasant. the only real sour note came after we left the restaurant; half of us had caught cabs, and me and ant and two other girls were in the process of getting into our car when our waitress, an older women (not some GW undergrad) came out with the check to let us know were were $13 short of the bill+pre-added tip total. what we'd left covered the actual food bill, but apparently not the prescribed %18 percent gratuity that is automatically added to every check. this bothered me a little bit, because the waitress was basically demanding that we cover the rest of her tip, (which was pretty sizable, on a $445 check); we gave her the cash to cover the difference, but i wonder if she would have chased down a group of men in business suits. i dont like thinking that i'm being treated differently because i'm young and with a group of young people. i dont know. maybe i'm snotty. anyway. dinner was good, the company was grand, and i certainly wouldnt mind going back to georgia brown's sometime when its less crowded and i'm more likely to get my dinner fresh. next up: lunch at zola.

Georgia Brown's
950 15th St NW
Washington, DC 20005

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A meal fit for a King?

Lunch for me has always been a simple endeavor. A sandwich, a salad, maybe a soup, and almost always eaten at my desk. Lunch is a speed bump on the road that leads from breakfast to dinner. However, it’s Restaurant Week, and all foodie norms are out the window; so today I did lunch like an adult, at the chic 100 King in Old Town Alexandria.

Like its name suggests, 100 King is located on the one hundred block of King Street, within eyesight of the Potomac. The look, both outside and in, is crisp and sharp. The uber-modern metallic gray and white chairs blend well with the blood red accents on the walls and the metal ball-barring curtains on the windows.

Like I said before, I walked in with almost no expectations, aside from being able to eat a decent meal for a bargain price. I know that Tom of WaPo fame gave it a 2.5 star rating and the executive chef, Chef Soriano, has practiced his craft at Michelin rated restaurants throughout Europe. But again, as I said last time, I wanted to let the dining experience speak for itself.

Upon walking in myself and my party are sat a table next to the main window and given the restaurant week menu. Fairly slim compared to other restaurants, the dishes offered are diverse enough to satisfy the palates of the five of us.

After water is poured, our orders are taken and bread is promptly served. The bread was wonderfully crusty and served at room temperature. While I have a personal preference for warm bread, this somehow did the trick for me. One small dish of olive oil was given with the bread which wasn’t enough to share, in a dish that wasn’t big enough to dip in. Yet somehow, in the face of insurmountable odds, we were all able to enjoy a little oil with our bread.

It was this point in the meal that made me glad I came in with no expectations. I understand it is restaurant week, and we arrived at the peak of the lunch hour, but it shouldn’t take over a half hour for the first course to be served. When it finally was, it made us forget about the horrendous wait we had.

I ordered a goat cheese pizza to start things off. This single morsel of deliciousness was without a doubt the best part of my meal. Served on a nearly perfect seasoned and baked pita and covered with goat cheese, olives, tomato and basil, the pizza was a wonderfully light and flavorful beginning to the meal. Unfortunately, it was downhill from there.

After our first course plates were cleared away, and yet another wait, our main course was delivered. Of the three dishes offered, the five of us got either the chicken Panini or the salmon – and left us all feeling sorry for the neglected flat iron steak.

The salmon that came out was wonderfully colored. Well cooked, it retained the wonderful form and flavor that makes me understand why my mother liked having something with salmon in it at least once a week growing up. The filet was rested on a bed of rich olive oil mashed potatoes. In total the dish itself was solid. It could have been hotter in temperature (it was somewhere between room temperature and luke warm) and a bit of parsley or basil would have done wonders with plating, but if lunch is a utilitarian meal, then this was truly a utilitarian dish.

Once again, plates were cleared and a new wait began. Finally, after another ten minute plus wait, our pistachio crème brulee’s arrived at our table. I eagerly dug my spoon through the crisp sugar shell and into the pistachio crème below. Sadly, my meal didn’t end the way it started. The texture of the crème was inconsistent at best. Some parts were wonderfully fluffy and slightly stiff, while others were runny, almost watery at times. The entire dish was, in a word, uneven, and in another word, disappointing.

In the end, I left a bit like that crème brulee: uneven. I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Should I be upset that a lunch that should have taken an hour took nearly two and a half hours? Or, should I feel content with my heavenly pizza and satisfying salmon and potatoes?

It is questions like those that make posts like this difficult to end; and so all I can do is look forward to tomorrow and my high expectations of Georgia Brown’s.


100 King
100 King StreetAlexandria, Virginia 22314

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

It's the most wonderful time(s) of the year...

The holidays may be over; the wrapping paper and champagne bottles pushed aside and room made for Valentine's Day candies and flowers, but that doesn't mean that the excitement has to end.

In fact, for foodies like us, this week is the beginning of the Food New Year - it is Restaurant Week 2007: January Edition.

For those unfamiliar with the concept: Restaurants across the DC area offer an appetizer, an entrée, and a desert from their menu for a fixed price. $20.07 for lunch and $30.07 for dinner. For restaurants where you'd end up spending that much on one dish, it's a bargain. Not every restaurant in DC does this. Notables such as Citronelle, Maestro and Restaurant Eve don't participate, perhaps because their business/reputation is so strong, that they don't need the extra customers.

Last Summer Jill and I made our first venture into Restaurant Week, eating at Butterfield 9, Kaz Sushi Bistro, and Zola. To recap: Butterfield was a bust, Kaz didn't disappoint, but didn't blow us away, and Zola found its way into our top three dining experiences list.

This year, I'll be eating at 100 King ( in Old Town Alexandria on Wednesday afternoon, and at Georgia Brown's ( on Thursday night.

I honestly have no expectations from 100 King. It's a pretty restaurant in probably the most beautiful area inside the beltway - it's a craps shoot, and I've got my fingers crossed.

Georgia Brown's however is another story. Supposedly the cream of the southern cooking crop, will GB's live up to expectations like Zola, or fall horribly short like BF9?

Only time and the food will tell.

It's Pho-tastic

You would probably miss it if you weren’t looking. Unassuming, resembling a hospital waiting room rather than a restaurant, Pho 75 has an oddly comforting sterility to it. Walking in, you’ll find a large white-walled room with small red faux-leather chairs that were probably purchased at an elementary school auction.

But it’s not what’s not on the walls, or what the chairs are made of that make this place special. It’s what’s in the bowls.

Pho 75 serves, well, you guessed it, Pho; a Vietnamese soup of sorts filled with varies beef parts and beef byproducts, onions, sprouts, and garnished with lime and mint. I’m not sure if the Vietnamese do chicken noodle soup, but I would imagine that they wouldn’t need it to serve as a cure-all with a bowl of Pho placed in front of them.

With well over a dozen varieties of Pho, the menu provides more than enough options, while keeping it simple. And simple seems to be the main ingredient at Pho 75; broth, brisket, eye-of-round steak, and noodles mixed together to provide a great balance of flavor. Accented with the lime and mint, the Pho is light and surprisingly refreshing, while being wonderfully comforting at the same time.

The service, while often criticized, was more than sufficient. Although the restaurant wasn’t packed, it was busy enough to expect delays in service, delays that didn’t occur.

When all was said and done, the meal, for Jill and I came out to about $16.00; a great price for a meal with no pretensions, and a dish that’ll make you pay attention next time you walk past this unassuming, cavernous white room of a restaurant.


Pho 75
1721 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22209
(703) 525-7355

Sunday, January 7, 2007

and it begins

Months after we started this sorry excuse for a blog, we finally get around to our first post. Introductions will come later. For now, its about food.

Our first post isn't a momentous one (no 1789 or Citronelle for us-- we're poor!) but we are in pretty classic jill&ant circumstances-- at ant's office, getting work done on a sunday, watching football as a distraction, jill's getting impatient. So she went down the street to Eamonn's Chippery, the cute little fish-n-chip joint here in Old Town. We've been hearing about this place for a while, since it is owned and run by Cathal Armstrong, of Restaurant Eve fame, but we usually aren't in the area with time to mess around. But today, a hungry jill passed up 5 guys and subway in favor of trying something new.

Eamonn's is in a great location, right on the corner of King and South Columbus. Its a long, thin little shop, with a bar down one side where you stand check out the chalkboard menu and order from the helpful by a slightly sheepish young men manning the cash register. And it smells good, as all things fried should. The menu is simple and spare; Eamonn's offers large or small orders of cod or skate, chips, coleslaw, baked beans, or "mushy peas" (which, the board declares, are 'imported'). Desserts include fried snickers bars, fried bananas, and doughballs, which are, we presume, also fried. The beer appears to be un-fried, however; we find bottled harp, along with a couple other brews, and guinness on tap, served in big plastic cups (thank goodness they aren't red and opaque). Personally, I opted for a small cod and a large chips, knowing I wouldnt be able to keep all of the potato-y goodness to myself. I waited about 10 minutes, chuckled when a dad asked the more sheepish guy at the counter for supplemental utensils and was told "no knives-- but stab it with one fork and sort of pull it with the other," and caught a glimpse of armstrong himself carrying flats of coke cans to the back of the restaurant. Eventually my food came out, bundled in a big paper bag already beginning to reveal the nature of its contents through its ever-spreading grease spots. Eamonn's offers 7 different sauces: a hot curry, an "old bay" sauce, a "fronch," which is dijon-french, a mayo-ketchup blend, one with sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and kalamatas... oh, a classic tarter... and one more that i can't remember. i'll leave it a surprise. but i'm sure you'll like it. They're supposed to charge $.50 for each sauce, but I wasn't charged-- maybe because i'm so damn cute? Anyway, I wrapped my hands around my increasingly slippery bag (supplemented with ketchup and malt vinegar packets) and headed back up king street.

(Momentary rant: i love old town. the people are cute, the dogs are cute, the restaurants are cute, the whole damn place is cute.)

Settled on the office floor, we explored the spoils. The fish was light and flaky, creamy on the inside, relatively flavorless but still piping hot. I've never really liked cod or your other basic white fishes, but this was about as tasty as it comes. I was a little dispointed to only get one piece (at about $4), but the huge mound of fries (excuse me, chips) made up for it. They're thick-cut, crunchy on the outside, and delicious. I got the ketchup-mayo sauce, which was perfectly fine, and the snazzy tomato-caper-olive one, which just about made my tongue turn itself inside out- its a wonderfully tart/sour/salty accompanyment to just about anything. Delish.

Long story short, this is not gourmet food, and its not fancy, and yes, its fried and greasy. But it is quality, and inexpensive (something like $7 for a big pile of food) and a fun treat once in a while. I like.

728 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 299-8384

Ant we're done here at the office. Time to go home!