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Global Feast : Washington DC

Vinoteca
June 18, 2010

Last Friday was a perfect summer evening to dine out. So we decided to head out to Vinoteca, hoping to be able to sit outside with our dog (Vinoteca is a dog friendly restaurant).

I made a reservation even though I suspected they don't take reservations for patio tables. When we got there 15 minutes earlier than our reservation time, the hostess told us that we had to wait for the patio seating but that we were at the top of the waiting list and there was one table that had just requested the check so we thought it would not take too long.

Well, that was wrong. We waited one hour. The ladies who were sitting at the table were sipping water for an hour and never left and we ended up getting another table before the restaurant finally pointed out that there was a 2-hour waiting list for the patio. The restaurant was not to blame and were very kind during our wait - they even brought a big bowl of water for our dog. Very thoughtful.

We wanted to enjoy the nice cheese plate and good wine to celebrate the beautiful summer night. We selected the sheep cheese flights ($14). They came with Manchego pasamontes, torta la serena and pecorino. We both loved torta la serena very much. Five minutes after the cheese palate came, the dinner arrived. Ah, isn't that a little too early? Our waiter noticed that and he really apologized and he said it was completely his fault. He offered us two glasses of sparkling wine later. Fortunately cheese is a good dessert so we just saved the cheese for later and accepted his offer.

The winner for that night was a special fish dish, pan seared Alaskan halibut with fingerling potatoes and Greek style Aioli sauce. I believe there was chopped pickled okra in there and I really liked them. The fish was cooked so perfectly and we enjoyed this dish a lot. I remember our very first time at Vinoteca, I had a blue fish and it was excellent too. They do good fish dish.

My cornish game hen with warm potato salad, greens and dill yogurt ($16) was good but I did not expect the BBQ flavor when I ordered it. I wish it was prepared in different way.

We enjoyed the extra glasses of proseco with left-over cheese as our dessert and that made me a very happy girl.

Vinoteca
1940 11th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
tel: 202.332.9463
www.vinotecadc.com

Vinoteca on Urbanspoon

 

Cafe Atlantico
May 16, 2010

We picked Cafe Atlantico for my husband's birthday week brunch on Sunday. Cafe Atlantico's MiniBar is very famous and it is has been on our "must try" list for some time. But we are saving it for a special occasion. But while it may take a while before we get to Minibar, Cafe Atlantico's Latino Dim Sum brunch every Sunday is one of the most accessible and incredible course menus in the city. It is an amazing summer brunch creation from one of the coolest, seemingly nicest, chefs in DC - and easy on the wallet as well.

from top left: Mango-anchovy ravioli; oyster with mango-lime oil;
Endive with queso fresco espuma; tuna ceviche with coconut

The dishes come out fast. Immediately (in fact, before we even had drinks), came out the first four. My favorite from these first four dishes was a mango-anchovy ravioli. The pasta part is a thinly sliced mango and inside is a anchovy mousse. Very creative... and very tasty.

Potato & vanilla mousse with American Caviar; Hot & cold foie gras and corn soup;
Conch fritters with liquid center; Mushrooms with egg 63

The next four dishes were even better. Among those, the potato & vanilla mouse with caviar was both my husband and my favorite. From texture to flavor, it was just dish licking good. I wish I could have eaten more. I also loved the burning hot conch fritter. It is a fried dough fritter with an oozing conch cream sauce inside. It was tasty and fun.

Grilled skirt steak "Carne Asada"; Pineapple-unagi with avocado sauce;
Coconut rice; Pork belly confit with passion fruit oil

The dim sum parade continued. The skirt steak was soft with a wonderful somewhat asian (Korean) inspired sauce. The unagi was relatively bland, in my opinion (because I am so used to eating Japanese style unagi) but I still enjoyed it. The pork belly was genuinely good and melty.

Fried egg with mashed black beans & pork; Boneless chicken wing (extra order)

Then the last of the savory dishes, fried egg with black beans, came. It was not my favorite. I thought it could use a little more seasoning. At this point, we could definitely have moved onto the last dessert plate but we wanted to squeeze in one more dish. We decided to order boneless chicken wings. The waitress told us that this is one of the MiniBar dishes. They cook the meat until tender and use a vacuum to such the bones out from the wings. It was very good.

The dessert dish was a pan dulce with cinnamon syrup. It is a mexican style cinnamon toast. My husband is a sucker for a syrupy & doughy dessert and his face was full of joy when he ate this desert. It was extremely flavorful, with sweetness and cheesy texture combined.

We had the Chef's Dim Sum Tasting menus (available from 11:30 am - 1:30pm on Sunday) and it cost only $35/person for 14 dishes. It was an absolutely amazing deal and each and every dish was very creative and full of flavor. I enjoyed this Dim Sum brunch so much and can't wait to go back again very soon.

Café Atlántico
405 8th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
tel: 202.393.0812
www.cafeatlantico.com

Café Atlántico on Urbanspoon

 

Creme Cafe and Lounge
April 10, 2010

Maybe I just don't know how to appreciate the real soul food, but I have not really found a soul food restaurant that I like and I live in a neighborhood full of them. Recently I found a great one.

I knew about Creme Cafe and Lounge ever since I moved to the neighborhood but I was so skeptical since it seemed every other place that was popular I found unsatisfactory. Even though I heard good things about Creme (not all good but better than most) it took several months before we gave it a shot. We arrived at 8:30 and the tables were full so we went for the last few bar spaces. We like bar dining so it was perfect. .

We tried the bibb salad with toasted walnuts, buttermilk blue cheese and walnut vinaigrette ($8), their famous shrimp and grits ($20), a small portion of Maryland jumbo lump crab cakes with caramelized onions, English peas, and stone mustard cream ($14) and a coconut cake with Hawaiian rock salt ($9).

Everything was well cooked and worked very well for us. The shrimp was perfectly cooked - something I am very picky about. The crab cake was wrapped with spring roll wrappesr so it was very crispy outside. Inside, there was a lot of very simply seasoned large chunks of crab meat. I personally don't like an overly seasoned, mushy, mayonaisy, crab cake like you find at many restaurants. But this one from Creme was awesome - you can really taste the crab meat. I thought it was a lovely dish. We usually skip the dessert but I was told that leaving without tasting their coconut cake was a crime so we tried it. I am glad we did because it was indeed a great cake. I am not a cake person. I generally can't stand icing. This cake has icing on it and it is really rich. But it was just the right amount on a very light and fluffy coconut sponge cake. Decadent but light texture.

We left the restaurant with a good satisfaction. Creme was a very pleasant surprise.

Creme Cafe and Lounge
1322 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
202.234.1885
www.cremedc.com

Creme Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

Thai X-ing
April 3, 2010

I had the best Thai food ever (at least in DC) this weekend at Thai X-ing. Unfortunately, I have never been to Thailand to try the real thing. I had a favorite Thai place in Tokyo but I have not been there in ages. All this is a shame since I consider Thai one of my favorite cuisines. I have tried many different places in DC but nothing really captured my attention - not necessarily bad but nothing memorable either. So when I moved back to Washington, I heard about Thai X-ing. When we moved into the neighborhood, I knew we had to try it.

Thai X-ing is not only a unique Thai restaurant - it is one of the most unique dining experiences I have had in DC. First, at Thai X-ing you have to make a reservation at least a few days in advance... even for take-out! And if you go there with group, you probably need to call in a week or two in advance because the restaurant only seats around 20 people at a time.

But the advanced reservation isn't just to ensure you have a table - it is also to make sure you get the food you want, and fresh. When I made a reservation, I was told to call back a few days before our appointed date to place our food order so that the chef could go shopping. I passed around the menu to the group and gathered everyone's preferences and called back. When I talked to Mr. Taw, he told me all sorts of other things not on the menu. I had to adjust my order a bit based on his suggestions, but I still managed to order a few of our favorites. Taw is very personable and helpful and we were on the phone chatting for quite a while putting the menu together for my group. By the end of the call, I could hardly wait until Saturday arrived for the meal.

The atmosphere of Thai X-ing is a trip. It may not be for everyone, but I loved it. It was kind of like eating at the home of a friend, assuming that friend is an eccentric bohemian Thai hippie chef. Taw has expanded a normal row-house kitchen into a chaotic but efficient professional food center, and has stuffed his oddly shapped dining/living room with a hodge-podge of tables and chairs, surrounded by walls covered with so much interesting clutter (fish bowls, statuettes, old snapshots) it takes all night just to discover each item. It is dark, and lit by small lamps and candles (hence the lack of photos with this review). We filed into a corner around a small coffee table and it was so immediately cozy that our conversation (and the wine and beer we brought with us) flowed liberally.

When we sat down, the first item was almost ready. [In fact, it was astounding how timely the dishes came out with only one chef in the kitchen for all the diners; faster than many top notch restaurants I know]. We started with my favorite Thai soup, Tom Kha Gai (coconut milk soup with chicken). I love this soup so much, I make it myself a lot and I order it almost every time I eat at a Thai restaurant. But Thai X-ing's version of Tom Kha Gai was beyond anything I ever tasted. It stunned the table and set us up for what we knew would be a memorable meal. It was the perfect balance of the four elements of Southeast Asian cuisine; sweet, salty, sour and hot. The only complaint I had was I wanted more.

From here, the parade of amazing food continued. Next was Larb Gai (spicy chicken and cilantro salad). This was killer-spicy with a strangely delayed punch. I was able to enjoy every bit of the salad and then only after finishing did I realize my mouth had died. It was very hot. I can't eat very spicmy food so I admit I suffered for a few minutes, but if you love the taste and strange sensation of spicy food, you would love love love this.

Pad Thai came next. When I talked to Taw on the phone, he insisted that we try his noodle dish. I am so glad we followed his advice. His version has more sauce and a moister texture than any other Pad Thai I ever tried. But in spite of the melty goodness, the noodles were perfectly cooked and not too soft. Absolutely, to die for.

While eating Pad Thai, the next one came. This was the one dish that everyone picked from the menu: special pumpkin curry. I have never tried pumpkin curry before and this beauty took away my speech. I saw my husband had tears in his eyes (not because it was hot). I have made fried pumpkin with Thai sauce several times and it is one of my favorite dishes so I have always loved the flavor combination of pumpkin and Thai sauce. But this one turned that combo into a creamy, coconut-infused goodness. I wish I had a huge bowl of this just for myself.

The next dish came: Ka Prow. It is a beef stir fry with Thai basil leaves. When Taw showed up to the table to make sure if we were happy, he said this dish was one of his favorites. I usually don't eat beef but I could not resist to try it. It was a lovely, simple stir fry that tempted me back for another bowl of rice. This is rare for me - and a very good complement to use in Japan.

OK. my stomach is 110% full at this point. But there were two more dishes to come. The main item of the night and the dessert. The climax for the evening was our order for a large, steamed whole grouper. The fish was steamed with lemon grass, ginger and other herbs and served with a garlicky, sweet, sour and hot sauce. They used green chili for this sauce. At first, the sauce tasted sweet but the kick of the green chili appears not far behind. The fish was very fluffy and fresh so this sauce gave it just the right amount of flavor. I adored this dish.

We really could not eat anymore but when the dessert came, everyone put their folks into it almost automatically: fresh mango with sweet sticky rice. Somehow we all found some extra space in out tummys to gobble up this dessert in a flash.

Thai X-ing does not serve booze, but you can bring your own. Almost everyone brought beer but I brought a bottle of Gewurztraminer. I personally loved pairing the spicy food with this sweet and low alcohol wine. I think they compliment each other very well. But I admit the beer was really refreshing too.

This massive meal, including a generous tip, came out to $37 per person. It could have been cheaper, but we really went crazy with our order. Considering how much amazing food we had and service that was fast, friendly and very personal, I think the price was fair.

Thanks for the awesome food and experience, Mr Taw. I will return very soon.

Thai X-ing
515 Florida Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001
202.332.4322
www.thaix-ing.com

Thai X-Ing on Urbanspoon

 

Againn Gastropub
April 2, 2010

We just stopped by Againn to have small bite and drink after a game at the Verizon center. I loved the cozy atmosphere and wonderful bartenders. They seemed to really care about their customers and I could tell that everybody at the bar was very happy.

againn charcuterie plate

We only had a charcuterie plate which has country ham, brawn, potted pork and country style pâté with piccalilli, onion marmalade and grain mustard as a condiments. It was a good late night snack. I was not a big fan of the smoky ham but rest was pretty good especially potted pork. But I have had a better charcuterie elsewhere.

I give the bartenders the biggest kudos for now and will have to give the food a second chance later.

Againn Gastropub
1099 New York Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20001
202.639.9830
www.againndc.com

Againn Gastropub on Urbanspoon

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