Category Archives: Restaurants

ChiKo — Lunch on 6 November 2019

ChiKo

ChiKo

The original ChiKo, an upscale-casual restaurant that “pair[s] modern cooking techniques with traditional Chinese and Korean flavors”, opened in Washington in 2017. It was an immediate hit, landing on the Washingtonian’s “100 Very Best Restaurants” list and making it to the semifinalist round for James Beard’s “Best New Restaurant Award”. This year, the owners (aka The Fried Rice Collective) opened a second restaurant near Dupont Circle, about a 10-minute walk from my condo.

I finally tried it last week.

Potstickers

Potstickers

In an obscenity case in the 1960s, Associate Justice Potter Stewart wrote that pornography was hard to define, but that “I know it when I see it”. That line became famous.

I’ve eaten potstickers hundreds of times, but if you’d asked me what it is that makes a potsticker a potsticker, I couldn’t have told you, even though “I know it when I see it”. For the record, a potsticker is a crescent-shaped dumpling filled usually with pork, steamed, and then fried.

The potstickers at ChiKo were hot, but not fiery, which was fine with me.

Cumin Lamb Stir Fry

Cumin Lamb Stir Fry

The Cumin Lamb Stir Fry, with big thick wheat flour noodles and caramelized shallots, could have used a lot more lamb—what was here was barely detectable.

Overall, it was a good meal, but not particularly memorable. My opinion might have been influenced by the view from my table at the window. New Dynasty, my go-to Chinese restaurant for cheap eats, was across the street, and a satisfactory lunch there costs about a third of the price of my meal at ChiKo.

Mai Thai — Lunch on 23 October 2019

Mai Thai

Mai Thai

Got my flu shot last week, and gave myself a little reward for bravery in the face of that harrowing medical ordeal by having lunch at Mai Thai on the way home.


A Brief Aside

Tyler Cowen, author and proprietor of the indispensable Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide, made one of those observations that seems obvious in retrospect, but hadn’t occurred to me until I read it:  “All food is ethnic food”.

Well of course it is.

“Ethnic food” has become the term commonly used to identify food from Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, but my beloved soupe à l’oignon and confit de canard are just as much “ethnic foods” as my beloved phở and bánh mì.

And my worldview became a tiny bit broader.


Curry Puffs

Curry Puffs

I started my meal with some nice crispy fried wonton stuffed with curry, minced chicken, potatoes, and onions, served with a plum dipping sauce.

Chicken Peanut Sauce

Chicken Peanut Sauce

For the main, I had boneless chicken breast sauteed with fresh ginger in a light yellow curry on a bed of steamed spinach topped with peanut sauce, with a side of jasmine rice.


Visitors to the US from Europe and Asia frequently comment on the relatively huge portion size in American restaurants. (I remember once sitting near a German lady who corrected her server for bringing her the wrong order. “I ordered a small salad”, she said. “That is a small salad”, he replied.)

I was reminded of this when I noticed that during the hour I spent ar Mai Thai, everyone who left the restaurant—including me—was carrying a “doggy bag”.

A very good meal. Correction: Two very good meals.

America Eats Tavern — Lunch on 23 August 2019

Restaurant Week is now very old news, so I’m skipping over a few RW meals here and cutting right to my final lunch of the season. On a rainy Friday, I went over to Georgetown to try America Eats Tavern, the most recently opened José Andrés restaurant in DC.

Andrés, credited with introducing the US to tapas, is Washington’s best-known and best-loved chef. He’s trying something different this time: America Eats Tavern serves recreations of classic American dishes, based on recipes dating from as far back as the 18th century. Upscale comfort food.

Skillet Cornbread

Skillet Cornbread

This starter of skillet cornbread, with fresh corn, smoked butter, and sorghum syrup, was a wonderful introduction to the restaurant’s culinary aspirations. The cornbread was about the size of a salad plate, so I had half of it boxed for home consumption by my non-existent cat. Cats like baked goods, right?

Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork

Over the past few years, homemade pulled pork has become one of my winter mainstays. Except for the messy jobs of shredding and defatting the meat, the crockpot does most of the work overnight, so it’s relatively easy to make.

At America Eats Tavern, the pork was dry-rubbed and smoked. The pickles were house-made, of course, and suitably crunchy.

Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwich

Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwich

This just didn’t work for me. I like my ice cream slightly melted—I used to prep ice cream by giving it a quick trip to the microwave before eating—and this shortbread-like lemon sugar cookie and the strawberry ice cream were both hard frozen, because it was meant to be eaten as a finger-food “sandwich”.


A Little More about José Andrés

I’ve cut-and-pasted this blurb directly from the restaurant’s website. Although it doesn’t even begin to convey the range and achievements of Mr Andrés, it will give you some idea of why he has so many passionate admirers.

“Named as one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in both 2012 and 2018, and “Outstanding Chef” and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation, Andrés is an internationally-recognized culinary innovator, author, educator, television personality, humanitarian and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup. Andrés’ restaurant group includes 31 restaurants, ranging in a variety of culinary experiences from food trucks to his multi-location vegetable-focused fast casual, Beefsteak, and world-class tasting menus like Michelin starred minibar by José Andrés. Andrés is the only chef globally that has both a two-star Michelin restaurant and four Bib Gourmands. As a naturalized citizen, originally from Spain, Andrés has been a tireless advocate for immigration reform. Together with World Central Kitchen and #ChefsForPuertoRico, Andrés has served over 3.5 million meals in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, reaching communities in need across all 78 municipalities through 23 kitchens. Andrés has earned numerous awards including the 2015 National Humanities Medal, one of 12 distinguished recipients of the award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

Café du Parc — Lunch on 17 August 2019

If you’re a regular reader here, you may have noticed a recurring thread running through some of my more recent posts.

Probably because my own surroundings are far from sumptuous these days, I’ve become downright obsessed with the charmed lives of Gerald and Sarah Murphy, close friends of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and partial models for the main characters in Tender Is the Night. I even have a wrist band with WWGaSMD? etched into the leather to remind me to ask myself “What Would Gerald and Sarah Murphy Do?” before I make any major decisions.

So. This day’s lunch was part of my pursuit of Murphyesque elegance.

Entry Hall

You can enter the Willard Hotel’s Café du Parc directly from Pennsylvania Avenue, but I prefer taking a slow walk through the interior of the beautiful Beaux-Arts building. The Willard can trace its origin back to six small houses that served as a hotel on this site more than 200 years ago. After repeated cycles of decline and rebirth, the hotel was restored to its current magnificent state during the 1980s and 90s.

Abraham Lincoln stayed here before his inauguration, and six US Vice-Presidents have lived in the Willard during their terms in office. This is where Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861, and where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the “I Have a Dream” speech 102 years later.

The entrance to Café du Parc is just off the lobby.

I decided to lunch on the café’s patio instead of inside the café proper. I chose a table bordering the Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk and, following the old gamblers’ admonition about keeping your back to a wall, I chose a chair facing west. The White House is a six-minute walk in that direction, and I didn’t want to be surprised by some rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching towards the Trump Hotel to be born. Safety First.

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

It seemed a little silly to order French Onion Soup in August, but I like what I like, and there are few things that I like more than that classic combination of caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, beef broth, bread, and a dash of sherry.

My Apilco Lion’s Head soup bowl runneth over with goodness.

Salmon

Salmon

Chicken or fish? Fish or chicken?

Or, as the  Café du Parc menu put it, “Poitrine de Poulet Rôti au Jus or Pan-Seared Atlantic Salmon”?

Chicken and fish dishes are default main courses on many an RW menu, because they’re cheap, fast, and easy. * Add Salade Niçoise to those choices, and you have the day’s three main options at Café du Parc. A little disappointing—The restaurant is usually more innovative in its offerings.

I had the salmon, with pesto mashed potato, heirloom carrots, and a tomato beurre blanc sauce. It may not have been a life-changing original, but it was damn good.

Dessert

Dessert

The menu called this “Pot De Crème au Chocolat au Grand Marnier” and describes it as “Baked Valrhona Guanaja 70% Chocolate Custard With Grand Marnier Liquor, Crème Diplomate Orange Confit, Buttery Langue De Chat Cookie”. I

I couldn’t put it better myself. /s

It was one of my favourite desserts of the week.


* “Cheap, fast, and easy”, btw, was my nickname in college. I guess they called me that because I ate in a lot of fast food joints back in those days.

Woodward Table — Lunch on 15 August 2019

Summer Restaurant Week is long passed, but I never got around to posting all of my notes and now my OCD has kicked in and won’t let me rest until I finish the project. I’ll be posting some much-belated comments over the next few days.

Woodward Table

Woodward Table

I had an unimpressive lunch at Woodward Table years ago, when it first opened. I have no recollection of what I ate, but I do recall that the service was terrible. The servers, who seemed to be involved in some very important business in a back room somewhere, had mastered the art of avoiding eye contact with patrons on those rare occasions when they scurried through the dining area. I briefly considered stringing piano wire between my table and the bar in an attempt to get their attention, but thought better of it. Instead, I just crossed the restaurant off my list.

Last July, Woodward Table announced that it was closing at the end of summer, and I decided I should give it one last try.

That was a mistake.

Mussels

Mussels

The steamed Blue Bay mussels starter sounded good. It came with the traditional grilled bread, and a sauce made with garlic, shallot, leek, fennel, tomato, tarragon, pernod, and creme fraiche. The mussels were tiny, not unlike the muscles I myself had had in fifth grade. (I chuckled quietly at the cleverness of my simile. I do that a lot.) The server had forgotten to give me a spoon to manipulate the mussel shells, but brought one on request.

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

Note to servers: Shrimp and grits is not finger food.

Eventually, I caught the attention of a server at a nearby table and began frantically miming someone carving a turkey. He got the idea, and brought me the missing knife and fork I needed.

Dessert

Dessert

Dessert was a clever idea. Instead of settling on a single dessert, patrons could order a sampler of nine bite-sized treats. The execution didn’t live up to the concept, though, because many of them tasted the same.


With all of Washington to choose from, I should have eaten elsewhere. Woodward Table was, once again, a disappointment, with forgettable food and poor service.

PS The Woodward Table location has already been optioned. It’s being taken over by The Cheesecake Factory.

Charlie Palmer Steak — Lunch on 14 August 2019

Charlie Palmer Steak

Charlie Palmer Steak

For those arriving late, we’re about halfway through my annual review of summer Restaurant Week in Washington, DC. Every August, I sample a mix of restaurants that I’ve never tried before and places that I’ve especially enjoyed during earlier visits. I usually wind up with a 60/40 split, favouring the newbies.

Charlie Palmer Steak, a sleek and elegant power lunch hotspot on Capitol Hill, falls into the second category. I hadn’t dined there in a couple of years, but I had fond memories of the restaurant’s delectable meals and first-rate service.

Lamb Sugo

Lamb Sugo

It’s pronounced “shu-go”, and it’s a simple pasta sauce. The pasta, in this case, was house-made black pepper Cavatelli, and the protein was Shenandoah Valley Lamb.

I would love to have this as a main sometime. It was that good.

Glazed Beef Short Ribs

Glazed Beef Short Ribs

The glazed beef short ribs, however, were not as wonderful as I remembered them from the last time I had them at Charlie Palmer.  Not bad, by any means, but simultaneously fattier and less tender.

They were served on olive oil crushed potatoes, with lemon, parsley, and horseradish.

Chocolate Pave

Chocolate Pave

Déjà vu. Yesterday at The Occidental, the starter and the dessert were the highlights of the meal, and outshone the beef main course. Same thing here.

The dark chocolate pave with salted caramel and a blackberry sorbet was a knockout.

The Occidental — Lunch on 13 August 2019

The Occidental

The Occidental

That little rectangular patch of gold and navy blue near the center of the picture is one of the entrances to The Occidental, viewed from Pennsylvania Avenue. This might be the most impressive approach to a restaurant in Washington. All it needs is a trumpet fanfare to mark the arrival of diners. Every time I reached a new landing on the stairs, I was tempted to turn and wave graciously—regally—to the crowds of impressionable tourists below.

Most diners use another, more easily accessible entrance at street level a few feet further down Pennsylvania Avenue, but it lacks the grandeur of all those steps. Besides, a regal wave is difficult to pull off when you’re standing at the same level as the people you’re regally waving at, especially if they’re taller than you.

Occidental Interior

Occidental Interior

The walls of The Occidental are covered with pictures from the restaurant’s collection of over 1,500 photos of well-known guests who have dined there. This being Washington, it’s heavy on politicians. One wall displays large photographs of the last few Presidents. I asked to be seated with my back to that wall, since I had no desire to spend my lunchtime looking at Mr Trump.

Frito Misto of Calamari, Shrimp & Bay Scallops

Frito Misto of Calamari, Shrimp, and Bay Scallops

This was one of those lunches where the starter and the dessert were the best part of the meal. There was a lot of tastiness on this little plate, which combined calamari, shrimp, and bay scallops, with zucchini, baby eggplant, pickled peppers, and spicy aioli.

Flat-Iron Steak

Flat-Iron Steak

I’m by no means a vegetarian, but it was the roasted heritage carrots that delighted me most about the main. The flat-iron steak with a Marsala reduction and a streak of cauliflower-burrata puree was just a bit tough.

Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait

Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait

This Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait wasn’t the prettiest dessert of the week, but it was my favourite so far. Dig-Dugging my way through successive layers of white chocolate mousse, chocolate cremeaux, passionfruit gel, and Chantilly cream kept me pleasantly entertained for 15 minutes.

Great room, very good meal.