Category Archives: Restaurants

Lunch at Air Canada’s Poutinerie — 13 November 2018

Poutinerie

Poutinerie

Well, this was a nice little surprise. Not my usual lunch spot, but irresistible. And fun, despite the hour-long, around-the-block, prime-time wait to get in.*

To promote Air Canada’s connections to more than 200 destinations through Washington’s airports, the company has opened a one-week-only pop-up Poutinerie near Dupont Circle, less than two blocks from where I live. Servings are a low $5, with proceeds going to Martha’s Table, a local non-profit.

Poutine is Canada’s contribution to the world of fast food. Classic poutine consists of French fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy.

For the pop-up, Air Canada is offering not just the traditional poutine, but variations designed to be reminiscent of some of the cities that the airline serves.


Full Poutinerie Menu
Poutine $5/Drinks $4

Montreal’s Classic (GF) | Hand-cut fries, traditional cheese curds, gravy
Toronto’s The Six (GF) | Sweet potato fries, pork belly, cheese curds, whole grain maple mustard, fresh herb confetti
São Paulo’s Sweet Chimi-Churrasco (GF) | Sweet potato fries, grilled carne asada, green chimichurri, queso blanco
Rome’s Eternal City Eggplant (Vegetarian, GF) | Garlic fries, Napoletana sauce, mozzarella cheese, eggplant ragu, basil chiffonade
Paris’ Brasserie-Born Braised Beef (GF) | Hand-cut fries, braised beef, mushrooms, horseradish cream
London’s Corner Pub Fish & Chips | Malt vinegar dusted chips, crispy fried cod, dill & caper tartar gravy
Seoul’s Twice the Spice Kimchi (Vegan) | Hand-cut fries, kimchi, kohlrabi Asian pear relish, sriracha gravy, cilantro
Mumbai’s Baked & Buttered (GF) | Hand-cut fries, tender butter chicken, grated paneer cheese, diced tomatoes, fresh herbs
Shanghai’s Neon Street BBQ | Shoestring fries, Asian BBQ pulled pork, hoisin gravy, sesame seeds, scallions, vegetable slaw
Dubai’s Late Night Shawarma (GF) | Shoestring fries, chicken shawarma, cucumber & tomato salad, tzatziki-garlic gravy

I stopped by the Poutinerie during the off-hours, and tried the London’s Corner Pub Fish & Chips, because England. It was only later that I discovered that The Washingtonian had “Ranked Every Poutine at Air Canada’s Pop-Up Poutinerie”, and given my choice a lowly single Drake rating…

 

…on a zero-to-five Drake scale.

I’m going back to try some of the more exotic dishes.


*But it was a polite, friendly line. I mean, it was Canadian, for gosh sake.

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Lunch at Ambar — 23 August 2018

Ambar

Ambar

My last stop on Summer Binge 2018 was at Ambar Capitol Hill, near DC’s Eastern Market. In addition to the Capitol Hill location, Ambar has a branch in Clarendon, Virginia, and one in Belgrade, Serbia.

The food at Ambar has gotten a lot of online praise, and it’s well-deserved. What isn’t often noted is that the restaurant is one of the best bargains in Washington. It’s a small-plates restaurant, with about 50 offerings. The prix fixe menu at lunch includes an unlimited selection of those dishes for only $22. There are restaurants in DC—not many, fortunately, but some— that charge more than that for a  hamburger.

Here’s what I had:

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts, with lemon and garlic yogurt, dusted with bacon.

Grilled Calamari

Grilled Calamari

The calamari was grilled, and served with fennel and a tapenade. For some reason lost to history, I avoided olives for years, picking them out of salads and setting them aside. Now I’m making up for lost time and missed opportunities. I have yet to put a tapenade on a serving of ice cream, but at this point, I wouldn’t rule it out.

Sliders

On the right. a house-ground Lamb Slider with herb sour cream and pomegranate syrup. On the left, a Beef and Veal Slider with Boston lettuce, smoked mayonnaise, and tomato.

Ambar Fries

Ambar Fries

The fries were in a pool of aged kajmak, which is a Balkan cheese made from unpasteurized milk. This sounded more interesting than it turned out to be, probably because the fries were only slightly warm. This was the kitchen’s only real misstep during the meal.

Pork Tenderloin

Pork Tenderloin

Best dish of the day, by a mile. Peanut-crusted Pork Tenderloin on mashed potatoes and bacon, with a miso mustard sauce. If there weren’t so many other menu items to explore, I might have ordered seconds of this one.

Lamb & Veal Sausages

Lamb and Veal Sausages

Lamb and Veal Sausages, made with bell peppers, onions, garlic, chili flakes, and tomato.


Raspberry Sorbet

Raspberry Sorbet

Dessert was a light and simple Raspberry Sorbet…

♫ She wore a
Raspberry Sorbet
The kind you find in a second-hand store. ♫

…with some nice juicy strawberries.

♫ She wore a
Raspberry Toupée
The kind you find in a second-hand store. ♫

[Sorry, Prince. But I was dining like it’s 1999, and I got a little carried away.]


Update

The 2018 edition of the Michelin Guide for Washington was released a few weeks ago. Ambar is now recognized on the Guide’s Bib Gourmand list, as one of the DC restaurants “that offer excellent food at a reasonable price.”

Lunch at Vermilion — 22 August 2018

Vermilion

Vermilion

I was looking for something different, so my emphasis during this August’s restaurant binge was on checking out places that I’d never tried in the past. Of the nine restaurants I visited, seven were new-to-me. Vermilion was one of the two old favourites, and it sort of met that criterion, because it has a new chef.

So I was off to Old Town Alexandria on an overcast afternoon. I took my chances with a sidewalk table, but a summer cloudburst let loose before the server could bring my appetizer, and I soon scurried inside.

Chilled Corn Soup

Chilled Corn Soup

So far, so good. My starter was a chilled, charred corn soup, with a hint of lime, crème fraîche, and lemon verbena.

Confit Of Suckling Pig

Confit Of Suckling Pig

“Confit” is simply something cooked slowly in its own fat, but my duck confit obsession* makes me powerless to resist any menu item that uses the word in its description. This confit of suckling pig rested on a bean and escarole stew.

Cheese Course

Cheese Course

Instead of dessert, Vermilion offered a cheese plate. The cheese was Challerhocker, which, I learned, is pronounced “holler hocker”. Challerhocker is Swiss, and the name means “sitting in the cellar”, where the cheese is aged for at least 12 months.

Verdict: Hmmm… I’m not sure yet. It was very good, but I’ve some incredibly  good meals here in the past. I’ll need a few more visits before I can decide.


*Thanks Bistrot Victoires in Paris! Seriously.

Lunch at Bindaas — 20 August 2018

Bindaas

Bindaas

Bindaas is part of the Knightsbridge Restaurant Group, which includes some of my favourite DC venues: Bibiana, 701, and The Oval Room. The jewel in the Knightsbridge’s crown is Rasika, which is widely considered to be the best Indian restaurant in the United States. While Rasika offers what I think of as High Indian meals, Bindaas focuses on Indian street food.

This was my first visit to the restaurant, but being here brought back old memories. The building was the long-time home of Tower Records—remember records?—where a friend and I spent many happy Saturday afternoons checking out the eye candy from the adjacent George Washington University campus thumbing through CDs in search of obscure indie imports. Good times!

Shrimp Bezule

Shrimp Bezule

But back to the present.

Lunch started with a bowl of spicy Shrimp Bezule, battered with Ginger Garlic Paste and Kashmiri Chili Paste, and seasoned with brown mustard, Thai green chilies, lemon juice, and fresh curry leaves. (I guess I could have omitted the unnecessary “spicy” adjective from my description.)

Dakshini Pepper Chicken

Dakshini Pepper Chicken

“Dakshini” indicates that it’s a South Indian standard. It was fine, but my palate isn’t well enough developed for me to differentiate it from any other Indian chicken dish.

Saffron Kheer

Saffron Kheer

Saffron Kheer is a rice pudding.

A few days ago, I mentioned that I wasn’t fond of Spanish desserts. The same goes for Asian desserts in general. I invariably find them bland and uninteresting. There have been long periods when I virtually lived on Vietnamese and, later, Thai food, but I’ve never had any trouble in skipping desserts.

I remember reading somewhere that France and China are the homes of the two great world-class cuisines, with France taking the win, because Chinese cooking doesn’t use chocolate. That’s too much of a sacrifice.

Lunch at Taberna del Alabardero — 17 August 2018

Taberna del Alabardero

Taberna del Alabardero

Traditional Spanish, this time. The original Taberna Del Alabardero opened in front of the Royal Palace of Madrid in 1974, and still flourishes. This Washington offshoot will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year.

Taberna del Alabardero is near Farragut Square and the White House. The colourful and eclectic interior, heavy on the reds, gives it a look unlike any other restaurant in town.

Butifarra Encebollada con Patata

Butifarra Encebollada con Patata

One of the more pleasing features of life in the 21st century is how easy it is to find answers to even the most esoteric questions. Before I go to a new-to-me restaurant, I routinely check out its menu on the Web, using a search engine to look up any words I don’t understand. What on earth, fr’instance is “Butifarra”?

Botifarra, Wikipedia tells me, is “a type of sausage and one of the most important dishes of the Catalan cuisine…based on ancient recipes… made of raw pork and spices”.

What Wikipedia doesn’t mention is how sensational this Butifarra Encebollada con Patata tasted. The sautéed butifarra were served with carmelized onion atop a potato purée.

Parrillada de Cerdo con Verduras y Salsa de Maracuyá

Parrillada de Cerdo con Verduras y Salsa de Maracuyá

The main, a grilled pork platter with vegetables and passion fruit sauce, was even more impressive. It featured variations on a theme, the theme being the savouriness of pork. It was a sampler of pork loin, pork rib, pork sausage, and pork on the bone, all perfectly cooked.

Crema Catalana

Crema Catalana

I’m just not a fan of Spanish desserts. I opted for this caramelized custard cream by default, because nothing else on the menu was more appealing. It was fine, but my heart belongs to cheesecake or dark chocolate treats.

Another superb meal!

Lunch at Filomena — 16 August 2018

Filomena

Filomena

This was my “Why haven’t I ever been here before?” lunch.

Filomena, in Georgetown near the canal, has been around for 35 years, but I’d somehow missed out on it until now. This is a classic Italian family restaurant, named for the matriarch of the founder’s family, and filled with furniture, antiques, and knick-knacks from her home.

The menu casually drops the names of some past patrons, like President Clinton, who favoured Linguini Cardinale (Lobster Meat in Creamy Cardinale Lobster Sauce over Linguini) and U2’s Bono, who ordered seconds of the Rigatoni con Salsicce (Whole Link Italian Sausage pieces with Mushrooms, Onions, Ground Italian Sausage, Chianti Wine, Herbs and Vine Ripe Sunday Sauce).

Polpetti Classico

Polpetti Classico

When I was in Venice last year, I had Polpetti—Italian meatballs—for lunch at Ca’ D’Oro, which were rumoured to be the best in the city.  According to the Michelin Guide, Ca’ D’Oro’s “meatballs are…legendary”.

The Polpetti Classico at Filomena were infinitely better.

[NO PICTURE]

I wasn’t able to take a useable picture of my main, Cannelloni Frutti di Mare. Here’s Filomena’s description of the dish:

“A Generous Amount of Fresh Shrimp, Creamy Mozzarella and Ricotta Cheeses blended and stuffed into the Pasta, Mamma’s rolled Black Pasta Sheets. Our original Seafood Lasagna recipe in the form of Cannelloni. Oven baked and covered with our famous Creamy Cardinale Lobster Sauce.”

A bit disappointing, after the great Polpetti.

Cookies n’ Cream Mousse Cake

Cookies n’ Cream Mousse Cake

This Cookies n’ Cream Mousse Cake gave me everything I wanted from a dessert. Not only was it delicious, it was, like everything at Filomena, generously proportioned, i.e. BIG. A welcome change from the three-bite desserts I’d had earlier in the week.

Will be back.

Lunch at Sonoma — 15 August 2018

Sonoma

Sonoma

Meanwhile, back during Restaurant Week…

Sonoma Restaurant & Wine Bar is on Capitol Hill, a block away from the Library of Congress and two blocks from the U.S. Capitol itself. That means it gets an interesting clientele, like the two people sitting at the table next to me, who spent their lunchtime rather indiscreetly discussing the inner workings of a Republican representative’s office.

Virginia Fried Oysters

Virginia Fried Oysters

Virginia Fried Oysters on a sweet Anaheim pepper purée with a house-made bacon jam. Anaheim peppers are mild, but give some heat.

Cinnamon Braised Beef Short Ribs

Cinnamon Braised Beef Short Ribs

The main, Cinnamon Braised Beef Short Ribs with shaved Brussels sprouts, buttermilk mash, and pan jus, was the star of the meal. The Brussels sprouts were a little undercooked, to my taste, but the short ribs were excellent.

Goat Cheesecake

Goat Cheesecake

The Goat Cheesecake with marshmallow fluff and maple walnut syrup was tasty, but, once again, the portion was small. Desserts should be excessive, and give the diner those wonderful pangs of guilt one gets from hedonistic overindulgence.

I don’t have much to say about this meal. It was all right, but I not special enough to make me plan another trip to this restaurant.