I am always wondering why I was not born in Vietnam. I love every single element of Vietnamese cuisine. From fresh herbs to pungent fish sauce to spicy chile to refreshing lime to silky rice noodle. We are lucky that we have the Eden Center in Virginia to satisfy my Vietnamese food cravings but it is still a hard place to get to if you live in the District. I have tried most of the Vietnamese places in the city. Most of them were decent but no place was really a stand-out. I am constantly looking for the perfect Vietnamese eatery in district.
So when I heard about Ba Bay's opening at the end of 2010, I was very excited. I read Ba Bay would serve modern Vietnamese cuisine rather than the traditional pho shop and a former italian cuisine chef from Sonoma would be their executive chef. I was not so sure how this marriage of Vietnamese and Italian would turn out but I figured it would definitely be interesting.
My husband was off from work for a few days and we decided to go there for lunch. I loved their modern twist of Vietnamese restaurant design. Beautiful wood covers both the inside and outside and it was very laid-back and simple yet beautiful.
We went early to beat the crowds but since it was a rainy day there were customers than usual. The hosts were very friendly and thoughtful.
From top left : Purple cabbage salad ($7); Classic Banh mi ($9);
Pho with rib eye, endon and tripe ($13); Black sesame cake with coconut caramel,and coconut ice cream ($7)
My favorite from this lunch was the purple cabbage salad. Compared to other items in the menu, this salad seems to be very simple and straight-forward Vietnamese food. The mountain of cabbage is mixed with peanuts, herbs and a fish sauce based dressing. It was so crunchy and flavorful.
Their pho has a lot of pepper kick to it. I wish it was slightly easier and subtler but overall, I enjoyed it a lot.
Both my husband and I agreed that there was something missing from their banh mi. As much as I love their red onion pickles in the banh mi, they made the bread a little soggy. Their chicken liver mousse inside was also excellent but it seemed like that was the only flavor I could taste. Maybe that was just because my pho had so much flavor. Anyway, it was not the best banh mi, unfortunately.
Lastly, their sesame cake was delicious with wonderful toppings (coconut ice cream, caramel, cream and coconut flakes). The cake itself was a little drier than I was hoping for but still soft and it had a great sesame taste. I was very full before the dessert and I declared to my husband that I would not eat it but I cleaned up the whole thing!
I also have to mention that their service was excellent. The waiter and host were very helpful and reliable throughout our lunch. We never asked for anything. They were always a step ahead. It was a really pleasent lunch experience.
Ba Bay offers an a la carte menu for both lunch and dinner and lunch prix fixe menu for $19.99.
633 Pennsylvania Ave SE
Washington DC 20003
We went to Palena dining room to celebrate my husband's birthday this year. It was not the original plan actually to be there but there was an accident and the reservation I made at another DC Italian restaurant a month ago was canceled and I found out only two hours before the reservation time. I was in such a panic but my husband very calmly suggested we try to call Palena. Luckily it was a Tuesday and Palena was kind enough to squeeze us into the Dining Room. We were so lucky.
We have been to Palena cafe three times and knew their food was wonderful - one of our favorites. We always talked about trying their dining room so it was great to receive such a unexpected opportunity.
And Palena did not disappoint us at all.
Amuse : Asparagus and goat cheese panna cotta with house cured salami (left),
Artichoke and fontina panini (right)
First Course : Artichoke Soup with sheep's milk ricotta cannederli, hazelnuts and wood roasted artichokes (left),
Foie gras, morel mushroom and pistachio terrine with roasted quail in composed salad with shaved asparagus and Sardinian cous cous (right)
Goose Egg Ravioli with pea shoots, morel mushrooms, and house cured smoked salmon (left);
Soft Shell Crab with Spring garlic mousseline, asparagus, shaved radish, pickled rhubarb and lemon zest (right)
Nova Scotia Halibut braised with Rhode Island ruby red shrimp, fava beans and oyster mushrooms (left) ;
Gilson Martin's Pennsylvania raised spring lamb with marinated and roasted loin, glazed cippollini and sweet baby turnips (right)
Mayer lemon panna cotta with poppy seeds tuille
Rhubarb soup (left); Rum cake (right)
Everything we had that night was absolutely fabulous but if I need to pick a few items that stood out it would be the artichoke soup and lamb. I have to explain that I eat everything except lamb. I just can't stand it for some reasons. But yet I am saying that lamb was one of the best dishes! It was that good. It was so moist and soft, you do not even need to chew. I admit that it may have a less distinctive lamb flavor than other cuts. However, the lamb lover (my husband) also said it was the best lamb he had ever tasted (I cannot even count the number of lamb entrees he has eaten over the last two decades).
The artichoke soup was a velvety creamy soup which was pureed with sun chokes and served with a soft ricotta dumpling and roasted baby artichokes. I have tried to make roasted baby artichokes a couple of times but they did not turn out this soft. I wish I knew the trick.
Every bite of every dish was so wonderful - not one miss the whole night. I am so glad my reservation at another restaurant got canceled. Otherwise, we would not have had the chance to enjoy this wonderful meal.
3529 Connecticut Ave NW
There are so many new places on H street but I have not tried many of them yet. For people like me without a car, H street is a little hard to visit but the perfect opportunity arrived recently. My family was visiting and we got a Zipcar to take them to US National Arboretum. We did not know the Arboretum was such a great place for a picnic and very dog friendly. We will definitely do that next time but for the lunch that day, we decided to go to H street. I would have picked Toki Underground if it had been open for lunch but since it was not, we picked another place I wanted to try for a long time, Dangerously Delicious Pies. My husband tried their Baltimore Bomb pie once when their truck came to his office and had been talking about it ever since.
I was hoping they would have either Full Custom Custard pie, Vanilla Cream pie, or Key Bridge Lime pie but unfortunately, none of my choices were on their menu that day. But their famous Baltimore Bomb was so I picked that for our dessert (yes, dessert decision comes first). And then for savory, I got STF (Sausage, Tomato, Fennel). My father-in-law got SMOG (Steak, Mushroom, Onion and Gruyere) and his wife got Chicken Pie and they shared a Blueberry pie.
My father-in-law grew up eating fabulous pie everyday. I was lucky enough to taste his mother's (my husband's grandmother) pie several times and they were always so amazing. So he knows what good pies are and he said his pie was wonderful. So that was a good sign.
I did not try all the other pies but the chicken seems to be the winner. Unlike a typical chicken pot pie, the filling had lots of veggies without too much gravy. My STF pie was also a dry filling with lots of fresh fennel and tomatoes and it was great. But the most amazing thing about their pie was of course the pie crust. They are all perfectly flaky and perfect thickness.
The Baltimore Bomb was delicious but a little too sweet for me. Also the custard inside was not silky smooth but curdly and I was not sure if how it was supposed to be. Nevertheless, it was really good.
Dangerously Delicious Pies
1339 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
It has been almost eight months since Estadio opened its doors. I was very excited when it opened but then it has taken me a long time to finally try it out. Estadio doesn't take reservations and it is very popular so I've been a bit intimidated by the wait. Finally, we found a stormy Saturday and thought that might have kept the Logan crowds at bay enough for us to sneak down the block and give it a shot.
When we got there, the hostess told us the wait would be 45 minutes to 1 hour. So much for the strategy. Both the dining and bar areas were packed but after a few minutes we managed to squeeze ourselves at the the end of the bar. It is a great looking bar and the bartender was really nice. So in the end, when the hostess came to get us about 40 minutes later, we were already comfortable with drinks and tapas and decided to make a night of it at the bar.
Just like one does in bars in Spain, we ordered one or two tapas at a time.
left : Emilio Moro 2007 $55
right : San Simon cheese with dates $4 (back), Pintxo Gilda - anchovy, olive and piparra skewered $2.50 (front left),
Chorizo, manchego and pistachio crusted quince skewered $1.50 (front right)
left : Leonora (soft goat cheese) $4
right : Lomo Embuchado $8
left : Sauteed pea soots, olive oil and sea salt $6
right : Pork belly, chorizo, morcilla and fabada beans $12
We enjoyed almost everything we ordered. The pork belly was really soft and had a wonderful smoky flavor from morcilla and chorizo. It was a very satisfying dish. The cheese and cured meats were wonderful. The only thing we were not sure about was the pea shoots. They used the tough and stringy stem of the pea tendrils so it was quite hard to eat and also it was a bit salty. But other than that, the food was as good if not better than we had hoped.
The serving portions were a little odd for both drink and food. The cocktails and wine by the glass were very small - probably the smallest in the city. After one glass of wine, we decided to order a bottle which was a much better deal. On the other hand, the food portions were very generously-sized for tapas. For example, the pork belly dish costs only $12 but it is as large as an entree.
Estadio was a very nice meal. I wish we hadn't waited so many months to try it. We'll go back again soon - rain or shine.
1520 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Recently we went to two different shows at the Kennedy Center and of course we gave a lot of thought to where to go for our pre-theater dinners. One obvious choice was Marcel's. We have been there only once a long time ago. I don't remember what I had that night but I do remember (I also remember I talked to Jim Lehrer from PBS). We found out that Marcel's offers a $58 pre-theater dinner including car service to/from the Kennedy Center and it seemed to be a great deal.
Another place we decided to go was DISH + drinks at the River Inn Hotel. I have never eaten there before so I wanted to try. My husband ate there a few times for lunch and he wanted to take me there to find out what I thought of their food.
I was very excited to be there after seven long years. We were there at 6:00 and the place was already busy with all sorts of nicely dressed people. The menu was divided into seven different courses and we were told that we can pick any three from any of the courses. There was no single item that I did not like on the menu so it was difficult to make a choice. But as you can see below, you can't go wrong with Marcel's.
Amuse : Rabbit and mushroom consomme
Butter Poached Maine Lobster Papardelle, English Peas, Squash, Lobster Essence (left)
Norwegian Cod, Twice Baked Purple Potatoes, Lardons, Chive Buerre Blanc (right)
Spiced Brioche Crust Lamb Chop, Roasted Spiral Potato, Cumin Madeira Sauce (left)
Pheasant Breast, Leg and Foie Gras Mouse, Turnip and Brussels Sprouts, Pheasant Thyme Cream (right)
Melted Montboissie over Toasted Pecan Raisin Bread (left)
Calvados Bavaroise, Granny Smith Apple Sorbet, Cream Anglaise (right)
After the last course, they brought in a petit-four and gave me the little bag of French macarons to take home.
From the moment we stepped into the restaurant until the entrance of the Kennedy Center, their service was flawless. One of the best service I ever received. And needless to say, everything was devine, although the melted montboissie was a little too heavy for the end of a meal, I must say. If I have to pick one dish that I really enjoyed it would be the pheasant breast. It was just incredible.
After the theater, a car from the Marcel's was waiting to bring us back to their restaurant for a post-theater drink. We were going to go somewhere else but we just could not resist to go back there. The bar atmosphere was great and the drinks were delicious. Bravo.
2401 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20037
Compared to Marcel's, DISH + drink is a casual dining restaurant. They have a more economical $35 pre-theatre dinner offer but you can only pick certain items from the menu. The entrees that we wanted were not part of the pre-theatre offer so we decided to order one appetizer to share and a main dish for each. Their main course is a large portion and we probably would have been better off without an appetizer. Most of their entrees are under $20 so it can be a very reasonable dinner.
Crispy calamari with red sauce (left), duck confit with grits and spinach (middle),
and pan chicken breast with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus (right)
The food at DISH + drink was good. Certainly not as refined as Marcel's but DISH does well on it more home-cooking style. This is a good place to go with friends and enjoy reasonable yet good food and conversation.
My chicken was soft and perfectly cooked with nice fresh asparagus and a mountain of creamy mashed potatoes. The creamy white sauce made this dish even heavier but overall, I liked it.
My husband had their special dish, duck confit. I had a small piece of it and I thought it was flavorful great piece of duck leg.
DISH + drink
924 25th St. NW
Washington, DC 20037