Archive for the ‘In the District’ Category

Blue Duck Tavern

February 9, 2009

My dad is hard to please when it comes to food.  Part of the problem is that he (like all of us in my family) finds pleasure in food more than most other activities.  When we talk about travel, we talk about what we ate.  When we talk about what we did for the weekend, we talk about what we ate.  And when Dad comes to visit, we plan where we’re going to eat.  We had a great dinner at Corduroy, a decent dinner at the now defunct 21P, and a bit of a disappointment at Brasserie Beck (which killed me because we had such an incredible meal the time before). 

There’s a lot of pressure to pick the right place, and with his wonderful girlfriend and her parents joining us for a holiday dinner out, we decided on our favorite restaurant in DC: Blue Duck Tavern.

Blue Duck Tavern

The setting:
Blue Duck is connected to the Park Hyatt in the West End, and the restaurant is reached through massive wooden front doors.  The foyer and lounge is sleek marble, with the tables and chairs looking like a Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse.

As a party of 8, we were seated in an alcove of a room for privacy, away from the hustle of the open kitchen.  However, you have to walk through the edge of said kitchen to get to the restrooms – a move that’s strategic since they march you right by the heavenly apple pies.

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On this occasion, I asked if I could take a picture of the kitchen, and was jokingly told, “We’re going to have to confiscate your camera.”  Alison believed he server (Alexander – who we’ve had before – he’s fabulous) and protested that I had a little food blog and they couldn’t take my camera.  Instead, Alexander took me over to meet the chef

The service:
Servers at Blue Duck seem to have just the right balance of formality and familiarity.  They were responsive to our needs, and made excellent recommendations (and I should have listened to what our server was suggesting…)   I think the vignette above about taking pictures of the kitchen perfectly illustrates the type of service you’ll get at Blue Duck.

I also have to mention because it was so cool when it happened…when we were served our entrees, multiple servers brought the plates and served us from the right side at the same time – it felt very fancy and old school.

The food:
To me, what’s so great about the food at Blue Duck is that I recognize what it is and where it came from.  The menu lists the farmers who provide the food, and you have the feeling that what you’re eating is seasonal – an old fashioned “new” trend.

Since we were here in winter, it just seemed appropriate to eat meat that had been slow cooked.  I opted for the lamb shank, whereas the men in my life (Dad, Brian, and Matt – future brother-in-law) out ordered me with the short ribs.

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

Oh, those short ribs…to die for.  Really.  Warm, flavorful, comforting.  My lamb shank (above) was good, but the short rib (below) was better.

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

The sides are my favorite things at Blue Duck, and what side do you think is the best in my humble opinion?  You guessed it: the grits.  It is very rare to find a restaurant that does grits correctly.  I’ve been to many places in the south that don’t make them as well as my grandfather did (one, they were so wonderful…slow cooked over a double boiler with butter and salt…) and it’s usually laughable what passes for grits up here.  But Blue Duck makes them creamy and delicious – usually flavored by another ingredient in season.  We ordered two for the table to share, and none went to waste.

The duck fat fries are also excellent – triple cooked, one blanched in water, and the twice fried with duck fat – have a great outside crunch with a velvety interior – I just wish I could train my palate not to want ketchup with them!

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

Even though you might be stuffed from a decadent and heavy dinner, do not forgo dessert.  The “individual” (read: feeds 3) apple pie with hand churned ice cream is not to be missed.  It isn’t overly sweet, and you can really taste the freshness and wholesomeness of the apples.  Delicious.

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

Blue Duck Tavern is my favorite restaurant in DC for a reason, and it didn’t disappoint on this trip as a great spot for 3 generations at one table, and for impressing a hard to please foodie father…

Best for: Celebrating the little big ocassions –  a new job, a holiday, or 11-month anniversary.

Worst for: Watching your budget and waistline.

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The Source

January 10, 2009

What better first restaurant post of the new year than to write about the RAMMY New Restaurant of the Year for 2008?

Wolfgang Puck’s The Source

The setting:
Attached to the Newseum, I expected a setting with a theme relating in some way to news.  Instead we couldn’t tell the restaurant was connected to a museum.  The downstairs consists of long, high communal tables, with a bar dominating most of the area I saw when we came in.  We were seated upstairs in low banquet/chair seating, enclosed in an area made more cozy by blocking off sections with thick glass panels.  The effect broke up what could be a monster space, and also helped with the noise level.  (Except when you’re seated next to a table of 8 SCREAMING women who thought everything that anyone said was the. funniest. thing. ever. and proceeded to do the women en masse squeal.  To everything.  For the amount of money you’re paying to eat at The Source – about $150 for 2 people sans wine and tip – I would like the other patrons to hush and be respectful of other patrons.  Luckily, the waitstaff eventually asked them politely to be quiet).

© 2002, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide Inc.

© 2002, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide Inc.

The service:
Our service was great – our waiter had just the right mix of formality and familiarity to make for a very positive experience.  The staff wished Brian a happy birthday – I had noted it in my OpenTable reservation – and bent over backwards to get me a copy of my receipt after I left it at the table.  (As a good to know tidbit: your receipt is good for 15% off Newseum tickets on Mondays or Tuesdays).

The food:
The Source serves Asian-inspired cuisine, but not so overtly that you don’t recognize most of the ingredients.  The amuse bouche was several bites, and may have been our favorite dish of the night: simply dressed and slightly spicy green beans.  Delicious.  The appetizers were also big winners, with a duo of crab consisting of a crab salad and a small crab cake, and tuna tartare “cones” – served in a sesame and miso cone with raw tuna, roe, and microgreens.  It was a close second of best dish of the night, and the presentation was fantastic.

For dinner I went with venison served with Brussel sprouts and a Japanese squash blossom puree that was, in my mind, just about perfect.  Venison is very tricky to get right…it has such a low fat content that it needs to be served rare or medium rare at the most, and most times I have it, it’s been either over or under cooked.  At The Source, my meal seemed like it had been kept on the pan about 20 seconds too long on just one side, but was still really fantastic.  The squash blossom puree added a perfect sweetness, and the Brussel sprouts balanced the dish.  I would have a hard time ordering anything else from the menu, I enjoyed this so much.

Brian was slightly disappointed in his scallops.  He claims I’ve spoiled him, and I agree that his dinner needed more spice.  The Drunken Noodles accompaniment was great, though, and the presentation was very cool as well.

We rounded out the meal with a blueberry and almond crumble that looked and tasted like a fancy coffee cake.  It was served with a ginger ice cream to carry on the Asian theme, but I thought good old-fashioned vanilla would have been better.

With the hefty price tag, the dining room at The Source isn’t somewhere we’ll frequent on a regular basis, but I’ll be back for the tuna tartare cones and pork belly dumplings in the affordable lounge.

Best for: A special evening out.

Worst for: Penny pinchers – hit up the lounge to get a taste of the good stuff at a fraction of the cost!

Corduroy

November 14, 2008

It was a favorite of mine in its old space, but this is my first time back since Corduroy moved to their new digs.

Corduroy

The setting:
I think we drove by it– running late, of course – at least 3 times before we spotted the row house with lighted porch lamps and a non-descript sign.  The area of town isn’t exactly what you’d expect for fine dining, but Corduroy is getting into a neighborhood early in its revival.  The new space is calming – almost a little too white and non-descript.  We were hoping for a table in the front by the window, but found ourselves in the back dining room.  It’s also very, very quiet in the restaurant, but not so quiet that we were able to tell what the canoodling couple 2 tables away was canoodling about so passionately.  (More on these two later…)

The service:
Virtually perfect service.  Really.  The host who greeted us was also our server, and displayed the perfect balance between familiarity and courtesy.  We were the last table to finish our meal, and in that time we joked that we wished we knew what was so engaging to the couple who was hugging (like, a passionate embrace hugging) across the table.  So our server found out: he went to the kitchen and found their server, who relayed that the man was divorced and her father was having a fit that his princess was involved with a divorced man.  However, said their server, the man paid with a black AMEX, so maybe the father could forgive his past relationship.

This was all done in a very conspiratorial tone, and wasn’t said maliciously.  And it made for great fun.

The food:
Chef Tom Power is my kinda cooker: keep it simple and let the food taste the way it’s supposed to taste without making a fuss. 

Brian and I originally planned to order exactly the same thing: lobster carpaccio to start followed by buffalo.  Our server suggested perhaps we order another appetizer and split them, so I wound up with a simple tomato salad and Brian stuck with the lobster.

food-corduroy-and-oyamel-0011  food-corduroy-and-oyamel-0021

The sauce you can see in the picture of the lobster is actually BUTTER.  Ah, delicious, creamy butter…one of foods more perfect creations.  (Also, see Bacon.)  It was decadent and rich: I could only eat one or two bites, but Brian declared he could eat plate after plate without ever becoming full.  The tomato salad was a perfect starter for me with the basil aioli ringing the plate.  The tomatoes were skinless – perhaps through a quick blanching process?

The buffalo entree was rich and flavorful, but my favorite part of this dish was the excellent potato side, with mandolined spud layers set off by sweet onion and a light cheese.  It was gratin in such a delicate and elegant presentation.

food-corduroy-and-oyamel-003

For dessert we were finally caught snapping pictures.  “I’d better not see that on the internet” joked our server.  At least…I hope he was joking!  Whoops!  Brian went with the famous “kit kat” bar – a hazelnut and chocolate bar surrounded by a vanilla bean cream anglaise, while I sampled a local apple tarte tatin, which Brian found not sweet enough.

food-corduroy-and-oyamel-004  food-corduroy-and-oyamel-005

The dinner – our 2nd year anniversary – was wonderful.

Best for: Canoodling couples with a story that isn’t too scandalous and people who like clean, unfussy food.

Worst for: Couples having an affair and people who savor sauces.

Oyamel – Day of the Dead

November 1, 2008

If you aren’t familiar with traditional Mexican food – and the holiday Day of the Dead, you might be surprised by what you find at the Penn Quarter hot-spot.

Oyamel

The setting:
I was at Oyamel the week of Halloween, and at first glance it appears as though this restaurant has gone overboard with decorations: skeletons wearing traditional Mexican prints, candles that have been burned to allow all the wax to drip and create something akin to an altar, a bathroom decorated with tarot card-looking figures.  But it pays homage to the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead.  The space still has that terra cotta color palate associated with Mexican restaurants, but there are also cool wire mobile and festive carnival flags hanging from the ceiling in the multi-tiered eatery.

The service:
Our waitress was very deliberate in pronouncing every dish in authentic-sounding Spanish, but she wasn’t so great at telling us what was in something or being able to put the name of a dish to what we were describing (even though she has worked there forever).  She also told me the drink I ordered – mango puree with tequila and infused with chili oil – wasn’t very spicy.  Um, it was basically like drinking Tabasco.  She had to make two orders of guacamole for our table, so I’ll forgive her for letting the chips run low: the ultimate Mexican restaurant faux-pas.

The food:
There are no fajitas on the menu here, and you’d be disappointed if Taco Bell is the picture that forms in your mind when you hear the word “taco.”  Instead, Oyamel prides itself on serving traditional Mexican food – and evidently that includes grasshoppers.

Oh, yes.  I did.

But first!  Guacamole!  Your server will make it fresh table-side, ranging from a little too mild (no more than avocados and tomatillos) to red-oniony spicy.  At our end of the table, we enjoyed the mild version, made even better by mixing a little of the salsa with it.

   

Oyamel serves food tapas-style, so I ordered 4 dishes to sample:

The Queso fundido con tequila is basically cheese with tequila on top that they light on fire. Yeah, buddy! I’d recommend sharing this because even the cheese-lovers who walk among us may find it to be a bit too much cheese for them. Also, if your server has brought you enough chips, the cheese is really better on them than the tortillas served with the cheese.

The Sopes de frijol con hoja de aguacate was really fantastic – four discs made from corn, topped with cheese and beans, and evidently avocado leaves (somehow I missed that part when I was eating them). But don’t eat these if you’ve recently had dental work – they’re a bit…hard.

The carnitas taco was just a teaser.

And then, the coup de grâce: grasshopper tacos. Yes, they were really grasshoppers. Yes, I really ate them. No, I probably won’t again. I’ll let the pictures speak for me:

     

Catch your breath, people…this is considered a delicacy in Oaxaca. To report, they were crunchy (“that’s the exoskeleton” observed our astute server) and a bit tasteless, and I later picked a grasshopper leg from between my teeth. Call before you go if you want to try them because – according to our server – they “have peculiar mating habits” and aren’t always available.

Eww…

Best for: Adventurous eaters who can’t afford a a trip south of the border with these airfare prices.

Worst for: The squeamish. You know who you are.

Let Them Eat Cake! Hello Cupcake vs. Georgetown Cupcake

October 20, 2008

And the winner is…

I’m not going to tell you that quickly!  One thing is for sure: I love cupcakes, and having Hello Cupcake within walking distance to work and Georgetown Cupcake within (a long) walking distance to my apartment isn’t good for my svelte figure!

Hello Cupcake vs. Georgetown Cupcake

The Setting:
I had read all about Hello Cupcake on my favorite food blog, Apples and Bananas, when Bananas did an interview with Ms. Hello Cupcake before they opened.  The place is decorated by her architect husband with an eye towards eco-chic.  I’m not so much a fan of the faux-grain wood motif, and the frosting wave patterned cupcake counter was lost on me.  But I do love the “Murano” glass chandeliers and being able to sit and eat my sugary treat.

Georgetown cupcake is much smaller and doesn’t lend itself to hanging out.  The line is often out the door and down the street, but when you get inside it looks exactly like you want a cupcake shop to look: white and pink with a dainty dollhouse table and gorgeous flower arrangements.  The cupcakes are stacked so beautifully on cake platters, and it made me want to sample more because they all looked that much more pleasing.  And the smell…pure frosting and butter!

Hello Cupcake: 0
Georgetown Cupcake: 1

The Service:
I’ve seen Ms. Hello Cupcake front and center every time I’ve been in or walked by – it’s clear she’s running the place.  Her employees aren’t quite as sugary sweet and enthusiastic, but what do you expect when the boss keeps telling you to not put the cupcakes in a box automatically, and the customer gets irritated.  I have to admit I didn’t notice last time I was there if they were still trying to get away with putting the cupcakes in a paper bag.  They did try to sell me a $3 “cupcake holder.”  Thanks, but no thanks…

Georgetown Cupcake is a high school drama kid’s dream job.  Sweet, eager, and totally silly in a way that makes me SO glad I am no longer that sweet, eager, and totally silly drama kid I was.  When I asked which cupcake they recommended, they gushed, “OMGTHEY’REALLSOGOODICOULDN’TPICKJUSTONE!!!”  And then when I ordered, “OMGTHATISTOTALYLMYFAVORITEIFREAKIN’LOVEIT!” 

But they were sweet.  And eager.  And for that, I award points, bringing us to:

Hello Cupcake: 0
Georgetown Cupcake: 2

The Food, AKA: Cupcakes:
I’ve had more from Hello Cupcake than Georgetown Cupcake just because of it’s proximity to work and the Friday doldrums.  I’ve sampled the Prima Donna, You Tart!, Peanut Butter Blossom, Heart of Darkness, and Triple Coconut.  By and large, the cake ain’t great.  It’s a little dry and flavorless – how is it that Betty Crocker cake mix is so much better than a $3 cupcake?  I’ll take BC Devil’s Food Cake any day over a Heart of Darkness.  What’s great about Hello Cupcake’s creations, though, are the frostings.  The strawberry cream cheese frosting on the Prima Donna was just meh, and I thought the Peanut Butter frosting was a little too good-for-you peanutty.  But the lemon goodness that tops You Tart!?  And the fantastic doesn’t-taste-like-a-Mounds Triple Coconut with the toasted coconut bits?  YUM!  And my co-worker literally licked her fingers clean of the chocolate ganache frosting on the Heart of Darkness.

My favorites, in order: Triple Coconut, You Tart!, Heart of Darkness, Prima Donna, and then the Peanut Butter Blossom.

Georgetown Cupcake is a hair cheaper than Hello Cupcake – $2.75 at Georgetown Cupcake.  The strawberry banana cupcake I had was basically like eating a slice of banana bread with Philadelphia Strawberry Cream Cheese on top.  The cake was a little dry, and the frosting heavier than Hello Cupcake.  But there are more traditional flavors at Georgetown Cupcake, so the purist in you will be happy.  (Hello Cupcake, by the way, has a Maya Favorite cupcake – chili-infused and topped with red pepper flakes.  My friend Megan said you could feel the heat in your throat – not your mouth).  Georgetown Cupcakes also sport girlier toppings – they’re just screaming to be served at a bridal or baby shower.

 

This past week I ordered another half dozen cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake, making it  a tie with Hello Cupcake.  Georgetown Cupcake’s cake is moist – maybe too moist – and the frosting is still too cream-cheesy and heavy.  Brian, however, likes them better. 

I think if Hello Cupcake and Georgetown Cupcake had a little cupcake baby, it would be nearly perfect!

This tie in the last category brings the total to:
Hello Cupcake: 1
Georgetown Cupcake: 3

The bottom line is that cupcakes make people happy.  You should eat them, whether they come from a Betty Crocker box at $6/dozen, or a little cupcake shop for the same price as a full meal.  Enjoy, and don’t tell your dentist.

Tangy Sweet

August 18, 2008

Frozen yogurt shops are popping up all over the place, and one is in my neighborhood.  My sisters and I stopped in to see what all the fuss is about.

Tangy Sweet

The setting:
Think Japanese Industrial Minimalism.  Concrete floors, space-agey counters magically coming out of the walls, and lime green.  Because nothing really says “Japanese” like lime green.

The service:
They must not be paying much, because there were the angst-ridden teens of the summer job world behind the counter.  Was I ever really that anxious?

Don’t be fooled by the menu: you can order just one fruit topping.

The food:
Well, in this case, the yogurt: it tastes like…yogurt.  Like Yoplait that’s frozen.  The green tea and pomegranate were a little too – wait for it – tangy for me.  I opted for the classic and added fresh mango.  I felt completely healthy and like I could climb every mountain afterwards. 

Best for: A summer treat while you’re on a diet.

Worst for: An ice cream craving – this ain’t gonna cut it.

Chop’t

August 12, 2008

Why is lunchtime so hard?  Is it because I got used to blue plate specials in Mississippi that beats anything you had at dinner, hand-down?  In DC, salads are the preferred lunch grub, and Chop’t is the place to go.

Chop’t

The setting: 
Chop’t’s clean lines and industrial space fool you into thinking you aren’t in a school cafeteria for the working Golden Circle dregs, but you’ll see the cool kids laughing at a table to your left, and the serious older kids having a meeting about chemistry class on your right.  Me?  I’m reading a book at the windowed counter. 

The service:
The Chop’t I frequent is just south of Dupont Circle – and be ready for a line that looks intimidating.  Before I figured out how to play the game, I would wait for 20 minutes in a line that went halfway down the block.  Now, I call my order in and go directly to the payment counter.

The food:
I’d suggest ordering one of the many already-created specialty salads on the menu.  I typically get the Cobb with the spa Ranch.  The first time I ordered, I made the mistake of asking them not to chop it too much – I was picturing those overly shredded “chopped salads” you so often get at a restaurant.  With the bacon in the Cobb and white cheddar (subbed from bleu cheese) being so thick, I almost wish they’d give me an extra “chop.”

I’d recommend against “making your own” salad if only because they seem to be a bit skimpy on the toppings when you do it.  They have a ton of toppings to go with, though, and if there isn’t one out of their extensive menu that floats your boat, you can get 4 topping included, and an endless number if you’re willing to pay for them.  

The salad is also served with two little soft tortilla triangles.  I’d recommend one of the great sodas on tap – I like the Diet Black Cherry Soda

Best for: A healthier option to lunch on the go.

Worst for: A hankering for the blue plate special – head across the street to Luna for that pleasure!

Best Sandwich Place

July 21, 2008
Now, I hate to give away my secrets – and Best Sandwich Place qualifies as a quick and delicious lunch spot.  But since Alison told me about, I thought I’d pass it along…

Best Sandwich Place

The setting:
If you didn’t know if was there, you’d never find it.  Tucked away inside an office complex next door to Borders near Farragut Square, only a brass plaque hidden in a list directs you to this tasty spot.  Look for the line of people waiting at the slowest ATM in the world, and brush past them to go inside and find the Best Sandwich Place.

The service:
You need to know what you’re doing when you go in.  Stand by the chips and take a look at the vast menu behind the sandwich-making station.  There are also a few listed (including my favorite) on a printed white sheet near where they carve the turkey.  Order, then grab your chip and drink, and proceed to pay – be ready: they only take cash.  (I would suggest finding another ATM than the one you pass going into the building.  Seriously: slowest ever.)  Now that I’m a regular, they bring me my sandwich when it’s done, but until you’re established, wait to the side of the payment counter.

The food:
Yummo!  I get the turkey artichoke club on sourdough (instead of on a french baguette.)  It’s wonderful: the artichoke spread is super-tasty, the Parmesan cheese give it the right amount of salt and kick, and the combination of chicken and freshly carved turkey is great.  And the fact that there’s bacon on it doesn’t hurt either 😉  I typically eat my sandwich with a few Sunchips and wash it down with an Honest Tea, and round the whole thing out with a pickle wedge.  It isn’t the cheapest lunch at around $11, but it’s worth it.

Best for: A delicious sandwich to break up the workday.

Worst for: Au Bon Pain die-hards.

Vinoteca

June 24, 2008

On our last night before Jack arrived, Brian surprised me with a visit to Vinoteca, a cool wine bar with a pretty great menu.

Vinoteca

The setting:
We were surprised when we walked in – we expected something more along the lines of Veritas with muted lighting and muted colors, and instead it seems more like a neighborhood cafe/diner.  The floors or walls desperately need something to absorb the sound; we were barely able to hear each other talk and the restaurant was only around half full. 

The service:
Our waitress was very nice, although I wouldn’t think her out of the ordinary.  They were out of what I originally ordered and it took a while to hear back and then my order was misheard.  (To be fair, I asked what the woman at the table next to us was eating and said it looked great but then ordered something else – I got what the woman next to me had).  

The food:
I was pleasantly surprised by how great the menu was!  It was really reasonable, and the mix of affordable charcuterie, cheeses, and small plates meant I got a good taste of everything – and the selections were great!   Brian and I both ordered the scallops, which were served with bacon (mmm…bacon) and a wonderful green sauce.  The scallops were served already cut into more manageable pieces, making it seem like a full meal, even though there were only 3 full scallops.

The wine list is also pretty great.  Brian really enjoyed a baby Barbera and I loved my glass of Greysac Medoc  (which I had recently read about in Julie & Julia).  This would be an excellent place to try some smaller pours of a few varietals while enjoying some charcuterie.

Best for: A fun night to try some new vino.

Worst for: A romantic date – a fun date, yes, but this isn’t the place to whisper sweet nothings in candlelight.

Peacock Cafe

June 18, 2008

This was the first monthly anniversary Brian and I have had together for 3 months.  Yes, we still celebrate every month…schmoopyschmoopyschmoopy.  We had a dance lesson at the French Embassy and then a late dinner at Peacock Cafe.

Peacock Cafe

The setting:
I couldn’t help but thinking as I looked out on the brick patio surrounded by ivy-covered walls and candles: what a beautiful place for a small wedding reception.  The space is really lovely – swanky inside with great lighting and sleek seating, and a bar that runs half the length of the long restaurant.

The service:
We were probably the last table seated that night for dinner, but the service was still friendly and accommodating, and we only had to flag our server down for more Sweet ‘n Low once.  Never mind that he refilled my water on my shoe, accidents happen at 10:30 on a Wednesday night.

The food:
Brian and I went for the price fixe option for $35 each – actually a pretty good deal!  I had a rose glass of champagne and a Caprese salad (although why is it so odd to ask for it without Balsamic vinegar?), and then lamb shank for dinner.  Both were good, nothing fabulous, but then dessert: creme brulee and cappuccino.  Both were absolutely delicious and Brian and I agreed coming back for just that would be the perfect wrap-up to an evening.

If you’re in Georgetown and need somewhere to impress – make your way to Peacock Cafe.

Best for: A romantic dessert and coffee in swanky Georgetown.

Worst for: A cheap, quick bite pre-movie showtime.