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Global Feast : Washington DC

Birch and Barley
March 26, 2010

I made a reservation about three weeks ago to finally score an opportunity to check out one of the most talked about new restaurants in the Logan Circle area, Birch and Barley. After the long wait and as we walked into the buzzing and beautiful dining room, we could hardly contain our excitement.

We had studied the menu in advance, and after hearing about the nightly specials, we quickly decided to give their tasting menu a try. It is a five course menu for $55 per person and you can add beer parings for an extra $20. I am glad we did the beer parings. Each time they bring out the beer, their beer sommelier/beer master, award winning Greg Engert, comes to the table and gives the presentation. His knowledge of the beer was so deep and clear, it was fascinating. He explains not only how it tastes and why it tastes like that, but also the history and geography of the beer maker and lots of interesting background. As befits a gastropub that is the center of DC's beer drinking universe, the beer paring was the highlight of the Birch and Barley experience.

Spanish macherl carpaccho Grilled octopus

The course menu starts with the amouse-bouche. It was a pumpkin risotto ball. Unfortunately, both my husband and I agreed that the risotto was dry and the batter thick and tasteless. Move on.

The first course was my favorite fish: spanish mackerel crudo with spiced yogurt, cucumber and dill. The beer paring was a Stillwater Artisanal Ales Stateside Saison form Baltimore, Maryland.

The second course was charred octopus with warm fingering salad, pickled eggplant and fried capers. The beer they served with this dish was a Caper Fumatis from Picobrouwerij Alvinne, Belgium. I loved the fried capers. I will try this at home.

Birch and Barley's famous bread Gnocchi

So far, the food was not bad but not too great either. But that was until we received their bread plate. I have heard how great it is many times and it was indeed a wonderful bread. The pretzel was unbelievably soft and chewy. Such a wonderful thing to serve at a beer haven.

The third course was gnocchi al forno. There was a wonderful house-cured pancetta inside and ricotta salad on the top. They paired it with La Weizgripp from Le Trou du Diable, Canada.

Birch and Barley's famous bread Gnocchi

The main course was honey-glazed duck breast with leg confit, wild rice, dates and radishes. Under three good-sized and perfectly cooked duck breasts, there was some tasty leg confit gems. I really wanted to eat a big bowl of that leg confit. The beer was the Einbeeker winter-bock from Einbecker Brauhaus, Germany.

The dessert was a key lime meringue pie with huckleberry sorbet. The beer paring was a Paulus from Brouwerij Leroy, Belgium.

A couple of great dishes for sure, but the highlight was the fun and educating beer experience. We're looking for another try sometime later when the summer menu is in full form.

Birch and Barley
1337 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC, 20005
202.567.2576
www.birchandbarley.com

Birch & Barley on Urbanspoon

 

Bar Pilar
February 6, 2010

Bar Pilar, Bar area Bar Pilar dining area
Bar Pilar chicken salad sandwitch Bar Pilar Serrano ham egg benedict

We spent Snowmaggedon in DC wandering around our neighborhood in the snow for a few hours before tucking ourselves into Bar Pilar near our house. Like just about anytime, any day, there were several people enjoying cocktails and brunch. Bar Pilar is a very popular pub with increasingly well regarded pub fare so we were hoping a snowstorm was finally our chance to score a table. While we were not able to order from the usual small plate menu, the brunch menu is interesting enough for a late afternoon lunch.

The Spanish ham and eggs benedict had the richest Hollandaise sauce I have tasted in my life. It was very creamy and silky and must have contained a full stick of butter. I had only a few bites of this but it was more than enough. But it was a really good benedict. Our other order, the chicken salad sandwich, was divine. I have probably had 1,000 chicken salad sandwiches, many of which claimed to be "the best" or "world famous" but this was the most impressed I have been by a simple sandwich before. It was quite shocking when I had the first bite. They used really good toasted bread (again with lots of butter) and the chicken was shredded really thin almost like canned tuna, with some kick of spice that I still couldn't place, along with some key vegetables for a little crunch. I am dying to get the recipe for this one.

When we were there, 90% of the customers seemed to be really young. And that means that the price at Bar Pilar is really reasonable. Our meals with one hot taddy and a glass of cava cost $36 total.

Since they don't take reservations, it is always very difficult to get seat but we will definitely try again to try their dinner menu next time.

Bar Pilar
1833 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 2009
202.265.1751
www.barpilar.com

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Coppi Organic Restaurant
January 30, 2010

Coppi dining area Coppi's pizza station
coppi's pizza coppi's gnocchi dish

When the weather is bad, it is a good chance to check out the local neighborhood restaurants. After last Saturday's snow (just a precursor to this weeks blizzard), we went to the local italian restaurant on 14th and U, Coppi's Organic. We had ordered a pretty good take out pizza from Coppi's before, but this was our first visit.

Coppi's has such a warm ambiance I instantly loved the place. What a perfect place for a snow day. It was just before 8:00pm and all of the empty tables were reserved. But we could score the last two seats at the bar. It turned out the bar seats in front of the pizza station were just fabulous. We could watch how they made the pizza and chat with the chefs. Those bar seats are actually the most popular according to the owner and it is easy to see why.

The thing I like about Coppi's food is the balance of creativity and taste. For example, the spinach gnocchi gave me a little puzzled moment at first because of the smoky taste, but the more I ate, the more I started enjoying. The powerful smoked cheese can be overpowering but it was just the right amount - a good accent for the slightly sweet but spicy sauce. Our pizza selection was pancetta, swiss chard, cremini mushroom and red onion. Swiss chard is not usually seen as a pizza topping but it works for the Coppi style lean pizza. Their pizza was more about the ingredients rather than sauce and cheese.

By 9:00pm, it was still snowing outside, the restaurant was so packed and our seats were surrounded by people waiting for their seating. This shows how popular Coppi's is.

Coppi Organic Restaurant
1414 U Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
202.319.7773
www.coppisorganic.com

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Bistro La Bonne
January 23, 2010

BGR's burger with sweet fries

Although I was so excited to hear that a new bistro opened on U street, I was trying not to control my expectations since many new U Street spots have turned out to be real disappointments. But one must keep hope alive! So last Saturday night we took a chance and showed up unannounced at 9:00pm. The first impression was good. Bistro La Bonne is in a typical Washington row house so it is not a big place but it has a very warm bistro ambiance, and a crowd that was just enough to make the place buzz - but not too much that we couldn't grab the last open table. There was no sign of hostess so after a few munites of waiting, the busboy finally motioned us to sit.

Once we sat at the table, the waiter told us that he actually works for another restaurant but he came to help out. I guess the restaurant was busier than they expected. Although, the restaurant just opened, the waiters and kitchen seemed to handle the busy night just fine.

BGR's burger with sweet fries BGR's burger with sweet fries
BGR's burger with sweet fries BGR's burger with sweet fries

The menu got us excited. It had everything you would want from a classic bistro. All the traditional items at very reasonable prices. Even before trying the food, the menu alone was enough to make us very pleased by Bistro La Bonne's appearance in our neighborhood.

I started my meal with a cheese plate ($8.75) which came with four good sized slices of cheese. It is a good size to share. (The same can't be said for their glass wine - the stingyiest, tinyest glass I have ever ordered. We'll make sure to order a bottle next time).

Then I continued to feed my obsession with frisse aux lardon. Bistro La Bonne's version ($8.50) was good, albeit not enough to unseat my favorite at Central. The egg from the one at Bistro La Bonne was probably cooked in a ramekin and the edge of the egg white was too hard to mix with the rest of the salad. But the dressing was good and the lardon chunks were savory.

My husband had a classic Steak Frites Sauce Bearnaise ($15.95). He thought the fries were some of the best in the city so far and I have to agree with him. The steak itself was fair, he said, but it was not as memorable as their fries. He wants to try a Fillet de Boeuf next time.

I did not order a main course on purpose so that I could enjoy a dessert. The Mousse de Mango ($7.50) was my choice. The mousse was very silky with very good wild berry coulis. It was not overly sweet and I enjoyed it. There were many classic French desserts like a Cream Brullee, a mousse au Chocolat and a profiterol on the menu as well.

We were very happy to know that the first French bistro in our neighborhood turns out to be a promising one - perhaps, indeed, our favorite spot in the hood. The catch-22 is, however, that the better it is, the less likely we will get a table next time... [Bistro La Bonne does take reservations for those of you who make up their minds more in advance].

Bistro La Bonne
1340 U Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
202.578.3413
www.bistrolabonne.com

Bistro La Bonne on Urbanspoon

 

Naan & Beyond
January 23, 2010

Meat Platter at Naan and Beyond Just out of tandori oven Naan

I had had an insatiable craving for Indian food ever since I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain's show a few weeks ago. I just can't stop thinking about it. We have been to the city's premiere Indian restaurant, Rasika, several times, and it is absolutely amazing. But when we just want a quick Indian fix, Rasika doesn't really fit the bill. Washington has its share of ethnic neigborhoods (Korean and Vietnamese in NOVA, Ethiopian on 9th and U), but we have been searching for a long time for a good, inexpensive neighborhood Indian restaurant.

We had an errand to do in downtown and we were looking for a place for lunch. We were thinking about the Indian restaurant called Indian Experience but it was closed on Saturday. But we noticed that a little take out place right next to it was open and we decided to try.

For the two of us, we ordered one meat special lunch platter ($7.95) which includes butter chicken and either chickpea curry or spinach curry. It comes with rice and naan. We also ordered a vegetable samosa as well. The flavor was not as flavorful as you get from more upscale Indian places but it was still quite tasty and amazingly good for the price ($10 for two people to get stuffed, including tax, tip and drinks!).

The best part is that everything is made fresh. They make the naan by hand and place it right in their tandori oven just after they took our order . It was hot, crispy and fresh. I usually like the more chewy kind but I was really amazed they do this amount of work for each customer in a busy fast food spot.

Meat Platter at Naan and Beyond Just out of tandori oven Naan

While we are eating, one of the cooks started making sausages. So I went to the counter and watched. They offered us several pieces of sausages to try just when they came out from the oven. There were lots of herbs and it was very juicy. They said they use it for Indian style wrap with the homemade naan. Sounds really great.

I just wish Naan & Beyond was in our neighborhood.

Naan & Beyond
1710 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20036

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BGR - The Burger Joint
January 16, 2010

BGR's burger with sweet fries BGR's onion fries

We have a plenty of cupcake shops and new burger joints in DC and honestly I start to get tired of them. But I do welcome a new one that is really good. The burger joint, BGR, which opened last year at Dupont Circle, might just be one of those special places.

We visited on a busy Saturday afternoon and I assume this place is absolutely packed during weekday lunch time. We did not wait too long to place our order. Getting seats is a little challenging there but we scored a high table at the back of of the store which nobody seems to know about. We waited about 10 minutes to get our order which is not really bad at all for hot and fresh grub.

We shared the regular burger with additional cheese ($7.98) along with the orange standard : sweet potato fries ($3.99) and onion rings ($4.49).

The quality of meat (blend of Prime, aged, all natural, hormone free, grain fed beef!) and their brioche buns are excellent. The combination of meat, bun and toppings is just right amount and you can eat them at all at once (juicy meat, melting cheese, buttery brioche, crispy onion and fresh lettuce and tomatoes). The sweet potato fries are very crunchy on the outside and creamy and sweet goodness inside. I love them but I want to try their regular fries next time. The onion inside of the onion rings are really thick and juicy. They are so heavy because of the juiciness of the onions inside. They take all these high quality ingredients and cook everything after they take your order so everything is super fresh.

GQ magazine claimed "One of the greatest burgers in the world you must have before you die". And we agree that it is damn good.

Oh, by the way the founder of BGR is Mr. Mark Bucher. Clearly his destiny was set when he was born.

BGR - The Burger Joint
1514 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
202.299.1071
www.bgrtheburgerjoint.com

BGR: The Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

 

Brasserie Beck
January 9, 2010

There are many Belgian restaurants in DC and I have tried three so far. Brasserie Beck was the one that my husband and I have been looking forward to visiting the most. Last week we finally made our first visit.

As soon as you step into the restaurant, you are struck by the beauty of the interior. The whole restaurants is more than 8,000 sq feet and divided into several sections with an open kitchen in the middle behind a glass wall. The beautiful wooden island in the center for the waiters to receive the food from the kitchen is stunning. There is a table for ten just right in front of the kitchen and they offer a special course menu for the guests who sit there.

We decided to sit at the bar since it was a bit late and we wanted to try and share a few different things on the menu to judge their food.

The first thing we had to decide was, of course, which beer we were going to have. There were more than 100 selections. But the bartender will help you to find the perfect one for you.

For our food, we started with my favorite frisse, bacon and egg salad to share and I had bay scallops and pappardelle with shrimp flavored sauce. My husband changed his mind right after the waiter told us about their special and decided to go with the venison sausage with a side order of fries.

The frisse salad was good but it does not top my favorite version at Central. The one at Beck is more like a fancy version of a chef's salad. I look for a delicate frisse with creamy egg yolks and the right amount of saltiness from the bacon. Beck's was rather hearty with lots of crunchiness.

I enjoyed the scallop dish. It was much richer (and bigger) than I expected. The scallops were cooked perfectly. Under the scallops, there was a cheese and pappardelle gratin with a rich shrimp cream sauce - perfect for dipping the crunchy baguette in. This is an appetizer course but was so big I can't imagine eating a main course after this.

My husband's sausage was a little dry, I thought. The venison meat was very lean so they probably should have added some other meat like pork shoulder or beef for some additional juiciness from the fat. I am not sure if Beck's are 100% Venison but I wish it was more moist. And the sauce was a little too BBQ saucey to me but my husband did not seem to be concerned.

Of course, it was out of question to skip the fries. Their fries were great as a "fries". If I order fries at a burger joint or french bistro, this is exactly what I am hoping for. But I was expecting more belgian style fries which are twice fried, thicker and more potato-y so I was a little disappointed since the menu said "Belgian Frites" but what we received were "french fries."

Nevertheless, despite these glitches, Beck's did impress us and we definitely will return again.

Brasserie Beck
1101 K Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
202.408.1717
www.beckdc.com

Brasserie Beck on Urbanspoon

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