Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Behold, a Bigger Ben's

To me, there is no institution, restaurant or otherwise, that quite embodies and exemplifies Washington DC than Ben's Chili Bowl. Princes and Paupers alike pile in on any given day and night, consuming food that reminds you why you like you food.

So in keeping up with the times, and the prevailing winds of the DC Restaurant culture, where if you're successful, you've got to grow or reproduce, Ben's is building an extention, according to an article from the Washington Examiner by way of DCist.

My thoughts on this: The fact that the normally dingy (in a good way) Ben's is going upscale shows the affect of gentrification on the U Street area, and will be an indication on where the rest of the area will be in a couple years.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Straight from the cow

Just a quick thought -

As I was leaving the Potomac Nationals game last night some sales rep from Hamburger Helper was handing out free samples of their version of EasyMac - essentially mac and cheese with some sort of meat or meat-like subtance involved.

Not quite sure what I think about it, though I have a good feeling what my stomach would think about it.

Off the beaten path, but on the money

It seems like in order to be a notable restaurant in Arlington, you’ve got to be within sight of a Metro station. Between the Ballston-Roslyn corridor, and Pentagon/Crystal City, most of Arlington’s best eats hover near Arlington’s metro stops.

Tallula is one of the exceptions to this rule; located about 15 minutes or so from the Clarendon metro stop, Tallula is a oasis in an otherwise suburban desert, sticking out like a sore thumb amongst houses and gas stations.

I visited Tallula a couple weekends ago for brunch, a meal I usually don’t partake in (because I’m usually at 2Amy’s for lunch on Sundays), with the former Apple of Apples and Bananas.

Tallula is broken up into several parts: EatBar, Planet Wine, and then the actual restaurant. For brunch we decided upon the actual restaurant, which has a nice bright modern feel to it, providing plenty of personal space without being confining.

We arrived early, just as it opened, and found almost no one there, which allowed us to be seated and served rather promptly.

While I initially wanted something light, my company, who had eaten at EatBar before, insisted that I get the hamburger. As usual, she was right.

Served on a wonderfully light brioche roll, the hamburger was nicely cooked and very moist. Not exactly the lightest thing on the menu, but tasty nonetheless.

Apples got the Eggs Benedict, which was pretty solid for a pretty standard brunch dish.

While I only got to sample a fraction of a fraction of what Tallula has to offer, what I had left me with high hopes, and makes me want to go back to try everything else it has to offer.

Tallula Restaurant/EatBar/Planet Wine
2761 Washington Boulevard
Arlington, VA
(703) 778-5051

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Missing: One blogger

While I have wanted to post over these last few days, constant sixteen hour days at work have prevented me from doing so. But here's a list of things hopefully to come:

-Review of Tallula
-Fair food
-Review of Vermillion

Until then, happy eating!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The "L" Word

There’s something to be said about a good location. Easy to get to, a great view, and plenty to do around it; a great location can make up for an otherwise lack luster restaurant. Unfortunately, even being in the heart of Adams Morgan couldn’t save Ghana Café in my eyes, or in my stomach.

Arriving at around 7 pm last Friday night, I walked inside the restaurant looking for someone to seat us, or at least direct us to seating – instead one of two people seated at a small table near the door were nice enough to break their conversation and tell us to sit outside. Lucky for us (myself and my three friends), there happened to be an open table of four.

The menu itself was just as chaotic as us being seated. Separated into “regular” and “vegetarian”, it’s difficult for someone who has never had Ghanaian food to tell the difference between the dishes; the ingredients are ambiguous and many of the entrees seem redundant.

Looking to be adventurous, I decided to order the goat with rice. My first venture into the world of goat, the meat was slightly gamey, and very fatty. Served lukewarm at best, the sauce it was in wasn’t bad, but seemed like a spiced up tomato sauce that I could have purchased at my Harris Teeter down the street.

The rice it was served with was also cold, and seemed like it had been sitting out for a while. Nicely spicy, it was served with peas and carrots – not exactly what I personally like having with my rice (or any meal for that matter), but they were the only thing adding flavor to the dish.

So…the service was horrible, the food was regrettable, and the price ($11.00) was inflated for what I got. But there’s got to be some redeeming quality to Ghana Café…right? Well yes, location. Ghana Café is located right across the street from Julia's Empanadas, where I was able to go after I settled my check and have a real meal for only $3.50.

Ghana Cafe
2465 18th St. NW,
Washington, DC 20009

Friday, June 8, 2007

Why would I go?

For me, every restaurant is a destination – what separates restaurants is what makes that particular establishment a destination. Is it the food or the décor? Is it a view of a city or the piano player that entertains guests on Friday nights? In the case of Yenching Palace in Cleveland Park, the draw isn’t any of the above; it’s what’s happened there, and who has eaten there.

The post below has a couple good articles that explain that history, but I want to tell you about the dining experience, which was fairly standard at best.

I started out with two spring rolls, which for a little over three dollars which were a fair deal. A good spring roll is a dime a dozen, but these were particularly good – not overly greasy, and filled with all kinds of veggie and meat goodness inside.

I decided to go for broke and get the seafood hotpot for my entrée. For a mere eleven dollars it was a lot of food for a great price. A very light broth filled with cabbage, mushrooms (which I picked out), calamari, shrimp and scallops it was surprisingly light for the amount of food delivered.

The service was, well…horrible. The poor woman was trying, but failing on all accounts.

When it comes down to it, none of that matters. Yengching will close its doors officially this Sunday, and will evidently have a party on Monday for customers, friends and family.

It was a destination for many people for many reasons over the past decades – and it will be missed.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Another one bites the dust

It's always sad to see a good restaurant go, much less one with so much history. This weekend, Yenching Palace in Cleveland Park will close its doors for the last time, and with it, a very storied history.

A special thanks to Ben for forwarding me the Washington Times article announcing its closure. The Washington Post also wrote a great piece on it back in January.

Luckily however, I'm having dinner there tonight, so there will be plenty to write about tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Yes, Reservations

Like most guys I’m usually not the best at taking a hint. Yet, when it took me five minutes just to make a reservation this past weekend at 1 Gen Thai in Ballston I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to be having an exemplary dining experience.

Upon arriving at 1 Gen Thai suddenly understood why I had to explain to the person on the phone what a reservation was – the restaurant was practically empty. The actual layout of the restaurant is quite pleasant; warm without being overwhelming, yet bright enough to keep me awake.

The service and the food provided a mixed bag of experiences. We were served our drinks long before water was served, though once our water arrived our server did a good job of keeping our glasses filled.

The mango margarita I had was sweet, but pretty weak for six bucks. For my entrée I got the “sweet and sour”, which is a tempura chicken dish with a variety of fruit and vegetables in a sweet and sour sauce and served with a heaping mound of rice. For eleven dollars I felt as if I got my money’s worth – so much so it almost made up for the margarita.

In general, my initial hunch was correct; there was nothing special about 1 Gen Thai. It’s a fairly generic, seemingly dependable restaurant that’s not going to break the bank, but it’s not going take your breath away. I would consider going again, this time, sans reservations.

1 Gen Thai Cuisine
4300 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22203

Friday, June 1, 2007

If I can make it there...

I couldn’t see much from the back of the bus; it was dark, and the tinted side-windows made it impossible to determine details from the world outside. My only clear view was about thirty or so feet away out the front windshield, and it was from this small sliver of clarity that I first saw it – the glow of New York City.

As I’d said before, it had been well over a decade since I had been in New York. Last time I was there I wore braces and sucked down Shirley Temples with the ferocity that only a ten year old can.

About thirteen years later things are strikingly different – a bus with friends instead of a car with family and Miller Lite instead of Shirley Temples; yet somehow the excitement was still there, my heart still beating as fast as it was when it entered the city years ago.

I could sit here and write ten pages on the past three days. In fact, on the bus ride home today I wrote a three page outline of all of the things that happened – from the moment we all met up in Chinatown in Washington DC, to the moment I unlocked my apartment back in Arlington and every slice of pizza, beer, and cigarette in between. However, this is a food blog, and while I had some amazing experiences that didn’t include food, most of them did, and I’d like to tell you about them.

Fado – Chinatown, Washington DC

One of the more ironic parts of the weekend is that the most authentic Irish pub that we ate/drank in was in Washington’s Chinatown. Fado, which I believe lies on 7th Street near the Verizon Center doesn’t exactly have the dank, dreary characteristics that I usually associate with a truly Irish pub, but the beer selection and quality fish and chips would provide some validity along with a very filling meal.

Knowing that I had a long bus ride ahead of me, I figured that a good plate of fish and chips would give me the energy to survive the treacherous four and a half hour bus ride to NYC, luckily it did the trick.

43rd Street Pizza – 43rd and 9th, New York City

It was there for us at 2am on Saturday morning when we needed it the most. To be honest, the pizza could have been horrible and I wouldn’t have noticed; luckily it was pretty decent.

They had a good variety of pizza, from pepperoni and jalapeño to various stuffed pies; it was just what the doctor ordered.

Some diner – 9th Ave between 43rd and 44th St, New York City

I can’t believe I don’t remember the name of this place, considering we went twice, and it was the venue for the best single moment of the entire trip (Steve doing a shot of cole slaw) but again, like the pizza place across the street, it did the job. I had a delicious challah French toast for breakfast on Saturday morning and a solid piece of apple pie for a 2am snack on Monday.

The crowd was interesting – it is definitely a cop diner, but it won a place in my heart when Boston Globe columnist and Sports Reporter regular Bob Ryan made an appearance.

Generic Bars– Various Places throughout New York City

I don’t know how many bars we went into throughout the city – probably between fourteen and twenty, and to reiterate a point Joe made throughout the trip, if you’ve seen one NYC bar, you’ve generally seen them all.

Narrow with at least one brick wall, four or five beers on tap, way too loud at night, and too many people shoved in to be even remotely safe.

The one thing worth mentioning about all of these places is that the prices weren’t as outrageous as I expected. Perhaps I built it up too much in my own mind, but I was expecting ten dollar Miller Lite’s. Instead, I found prices quite comparable to Washington DC, which was a welcome surprise (even though DC’s prices are still ridiculously high in many respects), and the service at all of them was decent at worst.

Lombardi’s – 32 Spring Street (Corner of Mott and Spring) – Little Italy, NYC

This is one of the major reasons I decided I wanted to come to NYC last weekend. I love pizza, and I felt that I was shortchanging myself by not have ever gone to the mother of all pizza joints.

Opened in 1905, Lombardi’s still uses an old coal fire oven to cook their pies, and the quality that made them famous still resides on Spring Street. The place was packed (very similar to 2 Amy’s on a given night) and we had to wait a half hour to be seated, yet the wait was well worth it.

Lombardi’s has two base pies – a standard margarita pie, and a clam pie. We got one of both. The margarita was fantastic – everything was incredibly fresh and well cooked. To be honest though, I still think 2 Amy’s is better (which really says something about 2 Amy’s)

The clam was something else all together – served with a whole lemon for flavor, I could eat one of these every day, and in addition to gaining several dozen pounds, I would be the happiest man on the face of the earth.

If I ever had to move to New York for some reason, I would find an apartment as close as possible to Mott and Spring – and they’d have to roll me out of the city.

Katz’s Deli – 205 East Houston Street – Lower East Side, NYC

Katz is to the Deli what Lombardi’s is to pizza – in the beginning there it was, and it was grand, and every deli that has come after must live up to its standard.

The question is though; would it live up to its own standard? The answer is sadly, no. The atmosphere is chaotic at best, and the prices are simply outrageous: $14 for a Rubin, $13 for a pastrami sandwich – and these aren’t the monsters of Carnegie either, these are fairly normal sized sandwiches.

Now they’re not bad, in fact they’re quite good. The corned beef and pastrami I had were the best of each meat I’ve ever had. But the Rubin I tried was on bread that was too thick and not toasted, and the sauerkraut was almost nonexistent.

I myself bought a hotdog which was fairly pedestrian, and not quite as good as the free hotdog I got at Rudy’s, a wonderful little bar in Hell’s Kitchen.

I’m sure it’s a fine deli, and in fact, I’d go there again if I lived in New York – but I wouldn’t go out of my way next time I visit to plop another six bucks down for a soda and hotdog.

The Grey Dog’s Coffee – 33 Carmine St. – Lower West Side, NYC

I probably will never get the opportunity to go back to Northampton, but it’s good to know that there are places in the world that can pretty closely replicate the experience without having to travel to the middle of Massachusetts.

The Grey Dog’s Coffee is a wonderful little coffee house that reminds me a lot of Woodstar – a large selection of coffee (which I don’t drink), which an incredible list of sandwiches and salads.

Looking at the menu before hand, I knew what I wanted before I got on the bus for the city - Proscuitto Press with Fresh Mozzarella, Roasted Tomato, Oil & Vinegar. How can you go wrong with that? The answer is – you can’t. One of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, there was more proscuitto on that sandwich than I’ve ever had in my life. The mozzarella was incredibly fresh and the balsamic vinegar fantastically sweet.

The Grey Dog will be opening up a second location in NYC in a few weeks, and it’s easy to see why. With a sandwich like that, I can only hope they’ll be looking towards DC for their third branch.

That may not have been every little piece of food that we ate on the trip, but I hope that gives you a good idea of what eating and drinking your way through New York City is like. There were some busts, and there were some absolute successes, but the latter outweighed the former enough for me to warrant another trip some time soon, and another round of eating that’ll come with it.