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Global Feast : Washington DC

Taqueria Distrito Federal
November 22, 2009

Taqueria Distrito Federal outdoor sign Taqueria Distrito Federal inside

Finding a truly authentic international restaurant in DC is not as easy as you think. Particularly when it comes to good quality mexican food (not a Tex-MEx, please). Even when we ask some of our Mexican neighbors, they don't have a good answer. The Weekend Latino Market in Adams Morgan called Mi Tierra sells a variety of street food from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Argentina and is a real treat but I wanted to find a little taqueria where we can grab something anytime we want to. When my husband was walking around our neighborhood one day, he found this Taqueria and he stopped to have some tacos. He sent me a text with a photo of the food taken with his iPhone and it made me really jealous. He promised me to take me there soon. A few months passed, and we were doing Xmas shopping at Columbia Heights and we were starving. And he suggested to go to the Taqueria he found. I actually saw a couple of food blog articles about this taqueria right before so I was very excited to taste their food.

The place is a little neighborhood restaurant with only 5 or 6 tables, a small counter and an outdoor space. The waitress was very efficient and took our orders right away. I had tamales (one chicken and one pork) and my husband had tacos combo which comes with tree tacos (you can pick the meat), drink and dessert.

Taqueria Distrito Federal outdoor sign Taqueria Distrito Federal inside

The tacos were real simple and fresh, without all that yellow cheese or a mountain of sour cream, that you get at most Mexican restaurants. The pork tamales had a spicy red sauce and it was moist and had a good amount of meat in it. On the other hand, the chicken tamales were a little dry and almost no meat inside. But both tasted quite good. My husband's tacos were excellent with fresh cilantro and onion. The side hot sauce was really great. And most of all, I loved the flan. Extra treat.

Oh, and all of this cost less than $15.

Taqueria Distrito Federal
Columbia Heights Location:
3463 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20010
http://www.taqueriadf.com

Taqueria Distrito Federal on Urbanspoon

 

Central Michel Richard
October 31, 2009

I am writing this report actually one month after I went there but my memory is still vivid. Central is one of the restaurants that I was longing to visit and finally we were there for our 11-year anniversary. Although I have never been to Citronel Michel Richard, his fame is well-known. So when I heard the news about his new restaurant featuring American comfort food at a reasonable price, it is always on the top of my list.

Based on most reviews, their burger ($16) is the most popular. And when we visited late on a Saturday night, it did seem like half the restaurant was having burgers. There were so many other good things on the menu but my husband decided to go with the crowd. It was good, but nothing super special. In fact, we both agreed that sometimes the gourmet burger is not as good as the good ol' regular burger. What matters most is the meat and definitely the Central meat was tasty, but with the tall rools and other goodies, the burger was beautiful but unwieldy. Strickly based on burger, we had to say that the simple Palena burger heavy on meat and light on the bun, or the messy, yummy burgers at Good Stuff Eatery were better. But we did grade Central's burger high on presentation (and fries).

I had a fried chicken ($21) which was recommended by our waitress. The chicken was moist and nicely seasoned. But I did not care for the excessive breading. Unfortunately, the waitress recommended it because of the breading. They use a fluffy panko style breading and it tends to soak up more oil. Next time, I love to try the roast chicken which I have heard is really good, too.

The highlight of the meal was my first course, a favorite bistro staple: salad frisse with lardons and poached egg ($12). This was excellent. So excellent my husband went back just for the salad the very next week! Salty bacon juice and egg yolk became a wonderful creamy dressing. I really enjoyed it. My husband ordered Duck rillettes & Faux Gras terrine ($15). The duck rillettes was so good we thought it one of the best dishes we have had in DC. Both of our first courses were actually quite big so I could not finish my main course which was also a huge portion.

Overall, we loved Central, a lot. We are usually disappointed when we have a high expectations but I want to go back there again and again to taste other foods there too.

Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20004
www.centralmichelrichard.com

Central Michel Richard on Urbanspoon

 

RASIKA
September 23, 2009

The last time I went to RASIKA was one week after the restaurant opened (2006 I think). The place was packed with people and we could hardly move or talk. But the food was exciting. It has been three years since then, and the place was still packed even tough we were there quite early for the pre-theater dinner menu. I failed to make a reservation through Open Table but when I called, they arranged the table for three. The food may have lost its novelty, but not its quality.

We ordered from the pre-theater menu but shared everything as usual for Indian food. But off the pre-theater menu the variety and price was astounding. Three selections each from among appetizers, entrees and dessert and it costs only $30 per person. There was not a bad item in the lot, but we especially loved the Clam Caldine (coconut curry broth with Virginia clams) from the appetizer menu. They don't bring Naan or rice until the entree is served so make sure keep the broth until later for dipping. The Tandoori Salmon was so juicy and satisfying but we picked Dal Makhani from the vegetaraian dish in the entree section as a winner. It is a simple dish but with complex flavour typical of well executed Indian food. Dal Makhani is made with lentils, tomatoes, garlic and fenugreek. I hightly recommend this dish.

Indian desserts are always very interesting so even tough I was too full to eat more food, I was very excited to taste three desserts we ordered; Sorbet/Ice Cream, Gulab Jamun with Ice cream, and Carrot Pudding with Cinnamon Sabayon. They were all incredible but I loved the Gulab Jamun with Ice Cream most. Gulab Jamun is a milk dough balls soaked into a sweet syrup. But the killer was the cardamom ice cream which came with a Gulab Jamun. It was just heavenly good.

Rasika is many people's favorite place to dine in DC. Count me among them!

RASIKA
633 D Street, NW,
Washington DC 20004
Tel. 202.637.1222
www.rasikarestaurant.com

Rasika on Urbanspoon

 

Zaytinya
September 6, 2009

We like to eat all kinds of cuisines but somehow Middle Eastern food is not often our choice when we decide where to go. We lived in many places where had our share of great Lebanese restaurants and we enjoyed them at the time, but maybe because we ate too much hommus and falafel and found the cuisine rather repetitive, we tend not to choose Lebanese restaurantes very often. Not that Zaytinya is your typical mediterranean restaurant, but it just took us a while to get around to it even though we had heard so much about the place.

Zaytinya specializes in mezze which is a Middle Eastern small plate. I grew up in Japan where sharing food with everyone is always the way to eat and I love to eat this way. There were so many choices in their menu and it took forever to figure out what to order. We picked 6 plates.

From the Cheese and Cures section, we picked Tulumu cheese from Turkey with honeycomb.
Then Baby Squash Salata (zucchini, patty pans, arugula, tomato, apricot, mizithira cheese and pistachio sauce), Bantijan Bil Laban (fried eggplant, roasted garlic-yogurt sauce), Barbounia Skordalia (beer battered red mullet, orange, potato-garlic purre), Adana Kebab (skewered ground lamb, house made harissa, grilled tomatoes, sumac onions) and Octopus Santorini (grilled baby octopus, marinated onions, capers, yellow split pea puree).

They were all excellent but especially I enjoyed the Tulumu cheese with honeycomb and Barbounia Skordilia and my husband loved his lamb. Tulumu cheese was a soft sheep cheese and pairing it with honeycomb was such a wonderful idea. The red mullet dish reminded me a little bit of Chinese fried fish. Lightly buttered fish with some sweet and garlicky puree goes really well.

Even through mezza is a "small plate," 6 plates was plenty for the two of us. And since you can pace the number of plates you order, the price was entirely reasonable. At Zaytinya you can eat a wonderful meal without breaking your bank account. And you can go with many friends and enjoy sharing many different plates.

This is a 'definitely' place to go.

Zaytinya
701 9th Street NW,
Washington DC 20001
Tel. 202.638.0800
www.zaytinya.com

Zaytinya on Urbanspoon

 

VOLT
August 30, 2009: DC Resturant Week (Aug 24 - 30)

VOLT Entrance VOLT Menu

Last week was DC's Restaurant Week. When I saw the list of the participating restaurants for this year, I was very excited to see the VOLT was in it.

Because I was in Liberia when VOLT restaurant opened in 2008, I was not aware of this new restaurant until I came back to DC in May. But as soon as I started reading about great restaurants in DC, VOLT was mentioned almost as often as one of my other favorites, KOMI. They are both run by young, talented chefs, who offer very creative and top rated dishes.

The chef/owner of VOLT, Bryan Voltaggio, was an executive chef and a general manager of Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington and decided to open his own restaurant in his hometown, Frederick, Maryland.

It is not too far away from DC but it still requires about an hour drive (50 miles from the city) so we decided to go there for a Sunday lunch. The weather cooperated with us and it seemed such a perfect day for this exciting field trip.

VOLT : laughing bird shrimp flavors of gazpacho VOLT : yellow corn chowder

The choice of the first course was 1) laughing bird shrimp flavors of gazpacho, cucumber sorbet, rick’s heirloom tomatoes; 2) tasting of tuscarora farms organic beets cherry glen farm goat cheese, purslane, cara cara orange; 3) yellow corn chowder basil, “popcorn”, chorizo, avocado ice cream, pickled cucamelon.

I had the shrimp dish. The tomatos were sweet and juicy and the cucumber sorbet had just the right amount of refreshing cucumber taste. However I was not a big fan of the laughing bird shrimp. It was a little chewy but otherwise it was very simple and light.

VOLT : omlet VOLT: niman ranch pork tenderloin

The main course choice was :
1) Bacon and cheese omelet with truffle fondue, potato hash; 2) American white sturgeon faro, tuscarora farm chioggia beets, textures of celery, toasted mustard vinaigrette; 3) Niman ranch pork tenderloin braised lacinato kale, orange braised fennel, cannellini beans, candy onions; 4) Roasted wellington farm chicken succotash of local beans, lemon thyme, long pepper, watercress; and 5) Pineland farm beef flat iron summer creek farm yukon gold potatoes, tomatillos, whipped garlic, coriander.

I picked the omelet. I usually can't say no to truffles and I was very curious how an omelet made by a skilled chef tastes. The omelet was so fluffy and there was no brown color anywhere on the omelet. It was obvious that the omelet was cooked in a sea of butter slowly and gently and the inside was still creamy but not undercooked. It was not only the best tasty omelet but also the best looking omelet I have ever had. My husband had Niman ranch pork tenderloin. He told me that the meat was peppery just he likes and the sauce was well balanced but the meat was a little on the dry side.

VOLT : Solbet VOLT : Peach tart

And dessert. We could pick one from 1) Textures of chocolate milk chocolate ice cream, raw organic cocoa, white chocolate mousse, chocolate caramel; 2) White peach tarte tatin vanilla bean frozen custard, basil; and 3) Raspberry vacherin pistachio gelato, lemon-rosemary pudding.

I am a berry person and they are in season so I naturally picked the Raspberry vacherin. I enjoyed the different textures from crunchy meringue, soft and icy raspberry and pistachio sorbet, puffy and juicy blackberry and crunchy crushed pistachio. It was a perfect choice after a huge and buttery omelet I had. My husband had a peach tarte tatin. He said it was excellent. I had a bite and the peach was not too soft but cooked enough that the sugary caramel was soaked in. And of course the vanilla bean frozen custard went very well with the tart tatan. I loved the finished touch of basil syrup. I only had one bite but I really enjoyed it.

VOLT : Solbet

Overall, the food was spectacular. I was very impressed that they provided this quality food for $20. I know some of the restaurant week participants offer a less quality menu than their usual fare. But not at Volt. We even got a wrapped coffee cake to take home with us.

The atmosphere of the restaurant was very pleasant but there was one odd thing. The background music was a little too out of taste. I don't believe that the music has to be classical music or jazz as all others play but playing hard guitar rock pushed me from focusing on the food a bit.

Bryan Voltaggio is currently in a this season's reality TV show, "Top Chef: Las Vegas" on BRAVO along with the Executive Chef from another DC hot spot Zaytinya.

VOLT
228 North Market Street
Frederick, MD
Tel : 301.696.VOLT
www.voltrestaurant.com

Volt on Urbanspoon

 

Birthday Dinner Part 2 : KOMI
May 20, 2009

Komi has been one of our favorite restaurants since it opened and we have dreamed about returning ever since we left Washington in 2006. When we returned in May, I managed to make a reservation at KOMI 3 days after my husband's birthday. We had been looking forward to going back to KOMI for three years so it was very exciting to celebrate his birthday there.

Komi's atomosphere is very cozy. Most of the highly rated restaurnats tend to be very luxurious (and half of that looks rather stuffy) but KOMI is very welcoming -- as are the hosts. I guess some people - especially in the northeast - do not appreciate this low key atomosphere given the cost of the dinner (more than $300 for two) but to me it is just the way I like it.

We have been there twice before about three years ago. Back then, weekdays were á la carte and weekend was the course menu. Now they only offer the course menu which comes with the medley of mezzethakia (small plates), apasta course, the main dish and the dessert. There was also a degustazione option which comes with even more mezzas and chef's selections of pasta and main dish. We selected the dinner course with a 3 glass pairing, though we were having so much fun we ended up ordering an extra glass of wine.

The selection of Mezzethakia was total of 12 (I beleive) bite size dishes. My favorite dishes were scallops with summer white truffle and chive cream; Crispy Caesar Salad; their signature dish, dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese and sea salt; and Basque Pepper Jelly. The most unique thing I ever tasted in my life was Crispy Caesar Salad. It looked like a small square croquette. The waiter told us to put the whole thing in our mouths all at once so we did. As soon as I bit on it, a huge wave of flavor burst from the nugget - a scrumtuous liquid caesar salad. It was such a unique experience. I don't rate it as "fabulous" but it was very interenting. I don't know exactly how they make that but my guess was they use a gelatine or some type of coagulant to solidify the liquified caesar salad and it melts when it is fried. The same technique is used for Chinese soup dumplings.
Other mezzethakia we had were;

• Hiramasa and cured olives and mayer lemon
• Kampachi sashimi
• Fish paste with tuna broth with fresh wasabi
• Brioche with smoked trout row and mayer lemon creme freshe
• Shikoku oyster
• Salmon belly with candied pine nuts with shiso sorbet
• Octopus with shaved fennel and avocado pure
• Hanger steak tartar with pursnip and truffle ice cream & crispy flat bread lightly seasoned with curry
• a wonderful plate of dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese, puff pastry with foie gras, herb cookie, basque pepper jelly, and goat cheese smore with dried fruit jelly

From the pasta course, I ordered spaghetti with crab and sea urchin and my husband had tagliatelle with morels, ramps and guanciale. My spaghetti was unexpectedly spicy with habanero cream sauce and I wish it was not spicy at all or just a slightly spicy becuase it killed the sea urchin flavor. But the homemade pasta was very nice.

Then we picked Roasted Katsikaki (baby goat) For Two for our meat course. I am not a goat fan but this is my husband's birthday and I insisted to order what he really likes (stinky meat!). By the time we finished the pasta course, I was so full and I could not imagine eating meat. The big leg of baby goat came accompanied with home made pita bread and five different condiments (herb sea salt, babaganuche, pickles, crème fraîche and one more item that I can't recall....). The serving basically encourages you to make your own gyro. Compared to the Mezzethakia, the meat course was very straightforward. No special tricks but just simple, perfectly cooked food that really helped you appreciate the versatility of the chef.

I want to mention that the five wines we tasted were well-selected and I enjoyed them very much. One of them were Alain Roy, Burgundy 2006 and another one I really liked was Mercouri Estate 2004 Refosco, Letrinon. Well balanced medium bodied wine.

The bill was rather large but that's the quality of work definitly worth the price. It may take us another three years to save up enough to return.

By the way, I tried to take photos but I was told that the chef does not like the customers to take photographs of his food. Later I found several blogs that presented photos (such as The President Wears Prada), but it appears these are all the same photos, perhaps taken professionally. With all the food bloggers around, I guess Komi likes to control its image.

KOMI
1509 17th Street
Washington, DC 20036
http://komirestaurant.com/
Dinner : $90
Degustatione : $120
3 glass pairing $42
5 glass pairing $68

Komi on Urbanspoon

 

Birthday Dinner Part 1: Bistro Bis
May 16, 2009

My husband's 40th birthday was in Amalfi, Italy and we had a very memorable dinner. Of course, I always cook on the day of his birthday, but we like to go out once too to celebrate. This year we managed to be in the US just in time for his 41st birthday. My original plan was a dinner at KOMI but despite my attempt to make a reseration exactly 30 days prior from Liberia, the tables were all sold out. So, since we are staying on Capitol Hill, my husband picked Bistro Bis to celebrate his birthday weekend this time. Bistro Bis is owned and operated by the award-winning chef Jeffrey Buben. This restaurant is often the place to spot Senators, Congressment, and political celebrities.

The ambiance is upscale hotel dining and the seating is a little tight, though I suppose you could call it cozy.

Madeira market
old town old town

from top left: 2006 Cairanne Cote de Rhone, beets salad, sweetbreads and steak frites

We started with Beet Salad au Citron: heirloom beets with goat cheese, walnuts, orange, arugula & citrus infused olive oil ($12.25). My husband is not a big fan of beets but I insisted he would like it. The beets were a little too soft for my liking but the sour citrus vinegrette, sweet orange, spicy arugula and milky and salty goat cheese gave the beets a broader flavor.

My husband had not had a fresh steak in years so he ordered Steak Frites: pan roasted sirloin strip with pommes frites, mesclun and red wine shallot butter ($33.00) for his main course and I ordered Sweetbreads Nantua: crisp veal sweetbreads with parmesan polenta cake, fava beans, morels, crawfish tails and crawfish-tarragon cream($28.75). And we also ordered the Wild Mushroom Bordelaise ($6.75) on the side.

The steak was very nicely cooked and my husband said he really enjoyed it.

I also really enjoyed my sweetbreads dish. I especially liked the side dish. All the veggies were perfectly cooked and seasoned. The sweetbreads itself was good but not so shockingly good compared to some other sweetbreads that I had tried before somewhere else. It was rather typically breaded and fried - nicely crisp but maybe it was cooked too much and the inside was not so velevety. But I really liked the sauce. It was great with both sweetbreads and all the side dishes. The portions were all quite large.

Bistro Bis
15 E St., NW
Wshington, DC 20001
The Hotel George
Tel : 202-872-1680
http://76.12.103.221/bistrobis.html

Bistro Bis on Urbanspoon


H Street FRESHFARM Market
May 20, 2009

Even though I shopped in an open market every week in Africa, I really missed farmer's markets. I went to the street market in Liberia to fetch the freshest veggetables and really enjoyed the market atmosphere, but I really missed the quality and variety of produce at the Farmer's Markets in the US. Naturally, the first thing I wanted to do when I came back to the States this time was visit the farmer's market. During the past four years, the number of farmer's market around DC metro area has really grown and I was very pleased to find a new one near our temporary residence on Capitol Hill. So on the first Saturday, I visited the H street Farmer's Market. I was a little bit disappointed with the size of the market - only 8 vendors. But it was still lovely to see the beautifully grown salad mix, asparagus, homemade granola, fresh eggs and meat products and one ice cream vender.

H street Farmer's Market Sing Veggetable vender

I am very happy to see the famer's market is everywhere now and people appreciate that. The neighberfood of this H street farmer's market is still upcoming and unlike the Dupont Circle area, there is a less demand for it.

It has been about 3 years since I have been to the Farmer's Market in the US and I was sure the price for every products went up dramatically since then. I remember, for example, the one bag of musclun mix was about $5. At the H street FreshFarm Market, it was only about $3. I also bought a big loaf of country bread (about $5) from Atwater's Bakery and the Avocado Honey Orange Ice Cream from Dolcezza Gelati ($6). Two ladies in front of me at the Dolcezza Gelati bought $40 worth of Ice cream that day! What recession?

H Street FRESHFARM Market
625 H Street NE (parking lot directly across from the H Street Self Storage)
May 2 - Nov. 21, 2009
Every Saturdays, 9 am - noon
http://www.freshfarmmarket.org/markets/h_street.html

 

First Night in Washington DC : Circle Bistro
May 7, 2009

Our first dinner after returning to Washington was at Circle Bistro at One Washington Circle Hotel. We are not staying this hotel but we used to live just cross the street and this was one of our hangouts, so we wanted to check if our favorite bartender Jane was still there. She was! Jane is a very petite but professional British bartender who has been working for the hotel for 25 years. She always remembers us no matter how long we are out of country. Last time we were there was three years ago. She bought a glass of wine to welcome us. It is nice to be back to place like this.

We usually order food at the bar and enjoy the conversation with Jane and food at the same time.

The menu looked very nice with seasonal vegetables which we missed so much for the last three years.

Madeira market
old town old town

We selected Asparagus Fritter, Spring Pea Soup with Jumbo Lump Crab Sausage, Baby Carots, and Piquillo Peppers ($8), Crispy Potato Crusted Oysters with Bacon-Chive Creme Fraiche ($14) and Black Grouper with Chorizo, Baby Spinach and Saffron Butter ($19).

The Asparagus Fritter was good. The aspargus was a little softer than I usually like but the batter and dipping sauce were really tasty.

I make pea soup a lot at home and I wanted to try and see how different they would be. They brought the soup bowl with crab sausage and garnish in it and a caraf filled with pea soup. The color of the pea soup was just a stunning bright green. Unfortunately we were not so impressed by the taste of the soup. I could taste the pea really well but nothing else to bring the flavor to a little higher level. Also the texture was more like a broth rather than soup so it was really light and delicate but without the punch that pea soup usually has. I guess it is just a personal preference but I like thick and creamy pea soups rather than pea-flavored broth.

The Crispy Potato Crusted Oysters were also unfortunately just a fried oyster. I expected a little more when I saw this on the menu... like shoestring potato around the oysters.... but it was just a crusty potato shell.

The grouper was very soft and fluffy. All in all a good snack that made us feel back at home.

Circle Bistro
ONE WASHINGTON CIRCLE HOTEL,
One Washington Circle NW
Washington, DC 20037
Tel : 202-872-1680
http://www.thecirclehotel.com/circle-bistro/index.cfm

Circle Bistro on Urbanspoon

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