Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hawaii Trip - Spring 2012

I know it has been a long time since I updated this bad boy so I figured I would take a couple minutes to write down some notes about my trip to Hawaii. Honolulu is not red-line metro accessible so it technically falls outside the jurisdiction of this blog. But I'm making the rules around these parts.

One thing that is almost instantaneously noticeable about the food scene in Hawaii is the abundance of good cheap food. The locals here know how to eat and they know how to do it without dropping 30 bucks a meal. I've said it before, but this is a niche that DC is seriously lacking. I spent 7 nights in Waikiki and driving around to different parts of the island...I think we went to maybe 2 or 3 formal sit-down restaurants. The sushi at Japengo in the Hyatt Regency was some of the best I've had in a long time. Simple dishes like taro and ginger salads were excecuted perfectly while takes on Hawaiian favorites like fried ginger chicken were a nice surprise. The service was outstanding and the ambiance, complete with waterfalls, was pretty cool. Genius Lounge, a lounge/tapas bar that has a 99.9% Japanese clientele is a good jump-start to a chill night out. Don't expect to rage afterwards though because the meal takes forever and the vibe is pretty low-key. Below average service is saved by the early 90's hip hop on the sound system and the rooftop deck. The only other formal dinner we went to was at the beach club and that is always a 10/10. The tables are all on the water, the seafood is the bomb, and they have a cocktail called the Henry. Awesome. A fireworks show at the end of the meal doesn't hurt either.

Fancy dinners are all fine and dandy, but my favorite part of dining in Hawaii are the local plate lunches. Almost any lunch spot serves every dish with 2 scoops sticky rice and mac salad. You can't really go wrong here. People who live in Hawaii take it for granted, but having access to "fast food" that tastes this good is fantastic. Most Hawaiian staples come from either Japan, the Phillipines, or island cultures. Out of this melting pot (god I hate that phrase) comes delicious saimin, manapua, chicken katsu, spam masubi, malasadas, and of course poi. The manapua here (called char siu bao on the mailand) is so delicious that I took a 45 minute solo bus-ride to chinatown to get some for lunch one day. It is essentially a baked potato roll stuffed with chopped bbq pork and glazed with sugar similar to that of a krispy kreme donut. I also had some cold jellyfish and a few dumplings while I was down there. Don't ever eat too much jellyfish at once though cuz you will be HURTIN later. Unfortunately they were all sold out of the fried pigeon because I actually wanted to try it (no shit).

L&L Barbecue gets their own paragraph here. This is a local chain that has spread to a few cities in Cali and one location in New York. The most expensive thing on the menu is probably 12 bucks and each plate is enough for two people. My favorite thing here is the Loco Moco. Loco Moco is as follows: three scoops sticky rice, one scoop mac salad, two hamburger patties over the rice, two sunny eggs on the patties, and covered in gravy. This sounds kinda gross, but Im telling you this is the best hangover cure around. Eat loco moco, lay down for an hour lol, and you are good to go. The spam masubi was my go-to late night snack. The place is open til one so you can walk in, pay a dollar or two for some sticky rice wrapped in dry seaweed and spam and crush that on the walk home. Everybody hates on spam, but I happen to enjoy it. You should just take it for what it is. Don't serve it at your wedding. Its a snack.

I made it a point while over there not to eat at any chain restaurants. There is an abundance of them and that really takes away from your vacation experience if you don't venture outside of your comfort zone. I would LOVE to see an increase in the number of mom and pop joints inside the DC limits. The food is cheaper, the quality is better, and you get to stick it to Chris Berman and those terrible Applebee's commercials. So if you have a few thousand bucks laying around and are looking for somewhere to go...I suggest Hawaii.

Oh and don't forget to try the chili at Zippy's too.

Everything - A+

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lost Society - 2001 14th St. NW

It takes a lot for me to go out to dinner and order a steak. DC is over-populated by steakhouses and the snobbery that goes along with it. If I wanted to wear a tie to dinner I would start crashing weddings or bring back those bolo things. This is part of the reason that I absolutely love Ray's The Steaks and one of the reasons I loved my recent trip to Lost Society over at 14th and U.

The scene here is pretty classy while maintaining a laid-back comfortable feel. The second-floor dining room (the first floor is a Subway...easily the WORST "restaurant" in the nation) is almost entirely hardwood and exposed, an underground feel despite being upstairs. Another thing that I immediately liked about the place was the eclectic mix of people...old white dudes, hipsters, bro bruhs, and everything in between. Is there anything more boring than going out or eating at a place where everyone looks like you? Barf. Ok, now the food.

The menu here is pretty straight forward, but they do have a few interesting takes on fish dishes and some different apps. We decided to try a couple different appetizers to start out with. She wanted the crispy pork belly and I wanted to try the bone marrow because I had never had it. Honestly, the pork belly was pretty hard to eat. I took a steak knife to that thing and was still strugglin' to get through the fried pork skin on the outside. However, the struggle was worth it. It was salty enough, but still had a little bit of sweetness to it along with being extremely tender. The serving size for this 10 dollar app was about the size of a filet. Pretty legit. The bone marrow was fantastic. This was easily the best bone marrow I had ever tasted lol. It is served with kosher salt, grilled slices of baguette, and two large pieces of bone that you spoon out onto the bread ( This was such a rich little snack and may have been my favorite dish there. Next time I may get super gluttonous and just spread this stuff all over my steak. Speaking of steak, this is what this place hangs their hat on. This is a steakhouse that doesn't scream at the top of its lungs that it's a steakhouse. For her entree she ordered the roasted grouper served with succotash, brown butter, smoked bacon, and chili aioli. I had a bite or two of this and I love grouper so it was pretty solid. The chili sauce had a little spice, but wasn't overwhelming. Spice on fish is always a plus in my opinion. I went with the extremely large 14oz bone-in new york strip. This was topped with maytag blue-cheese and served with a side of mushroom cognac sauce. Blue cheese on a steak can be risky. I've had it some places where it ruined the steak, but Lost Society prepared it perfectly and the cognac sauce was a great counter to the strength of the blue cheese. The steak went well with the glass of red that our waitress suggested based on the fact that I know zilch about vino. I couldn't believe it, but we actually ordered dessert after all of that along with a couple glasses of wine. Ruth almost fell out of her chair when I said I had never had nutella so we went with the Nutella Smore. This thing was straight up badass. I don't know how they torched the entire thing to get it melted & still served it chilled, but it was deeelicious. Haha, I still don't know which part of that thing was the nutella, but I'll get on board.

Lost Society has a certain feel to it... like you are behind an an invisible velvet rope (to steal a certain company's lingo). You feel like you are in your favorite neighborhood bar and they happen to serve some fantastic dinner options. This is something DC needs more of; casual eateries with great food. Thanks a lot to Chatty Cathy Savage for turning me on to this place.

Overall: A/A+
Highlights: Bone Marrow, Smores
Lowlights: Our waitress was super nervous and made it a tad uncomfortable for everyone lol.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Graffiato - 707 6th St NW

Big ol' Top Chef fan here. I've seen all the seasons, have favorite chefs, and favorite episodes. Spike has a few places in DC; a pizza place, a burger joint, but nothing with a comprehensive menu. I don't blame him for that since you can make boatloads of money slingin' burgers a pizzas, but when I heard Isabella was opening a restaurant in DC I was pretty excited. On top of that, a couple of friends are chefs there so that led to more excitement.

A friend and I went to Graffiato last week, both for the first time, and I was not disappointed. Its a casual place with great food that won't cost you 60 bucks a person. The first floor of this place had a pretty big open kitchen, but we sat upstairs in the quieter section of the restaurant. The lunch menu is not too extensive which prevents asian-menu-syndrome where folks like myself panic over choosing 1 out of 179 possible options.

The first thing that we ordered was the sweet corn agnolotti. This was a small plate (they all are here) with agnolotti pasta, chanterelles, and pine nuts. This dish was really rich, but the portion was such that it was not going to ruin the rest of our meal. I could have easily eaten an entire plate of this, but we had two other orders to polish off as well. Next we had the chicken thighs with pepperoni sauce and grape tomatoes. This sauce almost won Top Chef All-Stars for Mike Isabelle and is probably the most talked-about thing on the menu for people who have not dined here yet. I didn't wanna be the guy ordering the most popular thing on the menu, but I had to try it. The chicken was good, don't get me wrong, but it would probably rank at the bottom of the things we tried. It could use more of the pepperoni sauce (thats the highlight of the dish right??) and more tomatoes too. in my opinion, chicken is pretty boring so if you have something that makes it not boring...pile that shit on. The third thing e ordered was my favorite by far. The forager pizza has no tomato sauce and no mozzarella, but it is a GREAT pizza. Goat cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and dates make a phenomenal combination and this was the highlight of my experience there. We had two types of gelatto for dessert. I insisted we try the watermelon while I was told the peach would be much better. We tried both. The peach was MUCH better than the watermelon. I walked to Dolcezza the next day to see if their peach was as good...but it wasn't.

Graffiato is cheap enough that you can go on a whim and not have to plan a week around it. At the same time, the food is exciting enough that it could make your week.

Overall: A-

Highlights: Forager and Peach gelatto
Lowlights: Gimme more pep sauce pimps!

Sidenote: Great waitstaff

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ardeo/Bardeo - 3311 Connecticut Ave. NW

Sometimes last minute plans end up being the most fun. My buddy Lawrence and I decided to go to Ardeo, spur of the moment, to try out their new menu and visit a good friend/former co-worker. Cleveland Park has a different sort of neighborhood vibe when compared to the rest of D.C. I'll say it lacks a certain smugness and that is a welcome change of pace. Ardeo/Bardeo is in the middle of that neighborhood and the restaurant follows that same type of vibe. No loud house playing while you eat here (I'm looking @ you Zengo). Bardeo seems to have its the 3 martini after work guy. Ardeo is going to be where you want to take your date for a nice, sit-down meal.

After we were seated, Lawrence and I each got a beer off the limited list. However, I love Kona beer so that worked out fine. The appetizers we chose were: 1) Steak w/ horseradish creme fraiche, fingerling potatoes 2) Suckling pork belly, pineapple, ham and 3) Crispy onion straws with what I'm going to call super sauce because I think if I put that on a burger I could become a millionaire. The onion straws are kind of hard to dip in the sauce, but just stick your whole damn hand in there because its worth it. The other two apps were also very delicious, but I liked the horseradish creme fraiche on the steak the best. For my entree I chose the Seven hour braised leg of suckling pig. You read that right; and yes it was awesome. Being from Atlanta had me appreciating this dish on all sorts of levels. Babe came with cheddar grits, blackeyed peas, redeye gravy, & peanuts. When I go back to restaurants I almost always get something new, but when I come back to Ardeo I'm getting way around it. The other two entrees were 1) Smoked duck breast (w/ hush puppies, napa cabbage slaw, barbeque sauce) and 2) Pork cacciatore, black pepper fettuccini, house pancetta. Both of these dishes got rave reviews along with plates being completely cleaned. We all briefly entertained the idea of dessert, but we were on beers 3 or 4 of what would be around 9 so ya know what goes better with beer than ice cream? Fuc*in' bacon pizza, that's what. This was just as good as any entree we ordered and was crushed in a matter of like 4 minutes. This pizza was just as good, if not better, than any I have had at Two Amy's or Matchbox. The bacon pizza comes with House bacon, aged cheddar, grilled corn, basil. The grilled corn is what makes this one stand out and I really enjoyed it as a topping. All of this and a few beers each totaled like 45 bucks each, before tip, which is not bad at all.

This is a neighborhood place that's worth coming to from another neighborhood.

Overall: A

Highlights: Cheddar grits and the bacon pizza
Lowlights: The service left a little to be desired, but was still friendly and timely.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

TAP - 1180 Peachtree St (Atlanta)

I still need to write a review or 6 on some of the restaurants I visited while in San Fransisco, but that is going to be somewhat of a project. So, first up on the out of town review list is where we ate for my birthday while I was in Atlanta. TAP is in midtown Atlanta and has all the makings of a turn n' burn establishment so I really was not expecting anything more than good company and some decent beer. I left pleasantly surprised.

The hostess immediately started busting my balls when we came inside since I never returned her phone call confirming the reservation. She wasn't serious so no harm no foul, but this was kind of a precursor to the service for the rest of the meal. Most of us were just focused on pre-gaming a little bit so we decided to just get some appetizers to start off with. For our shares we chose the buffalo calamari (tossed with bleu cheese and celery), fried pickles served with jalapeno cream sauce, and braised octopus (served chilled tossed in a basil vinaigrette). Two of those sounds like pretty standard issue bar grub, but all three were outstanding. The calamari wasnt drenched in hot sauce and bleu cheese, but was just lightly dusted with both and had cheese crumbles in there as well, which was nice. The fried pickles were sweet pickles which is a change of pace from the usual sour kind that are fried. The jalapeno sauce that came with the pickles was not overpowering, but instead served as a good counter to the sweetness of the pickle. My favorite was the octopus. Not everyone tried this, but the people that did liked it. I think most of the time when people do not want to try a "weird" food like this it is mostly based on texture than the actual taste. The texture was straight up gummy bear, but the taste was fantastic and very refreshing. The octopus was a great lead in to what I ordered next. After our apps most of the table was pretty full so people shared burgers, salads, etc. All of these got pretty good reviews. I just ended up getting another appetizer and chose the Tuna Tataki (sesame seared tuna, avocado dressing, sun dried tomatoes, mixed greens, and orange oil). This was another surprising dish. Sun dried tomatoes with my tuna? Seriously? How is this going to work? Well, it did work and it went great with the avocado dressing. Another good summer dish that was very refreshing and probably not something that would not be difficult to do at home. There wasn't too much pepper on the tuna either. So many time I have come across this seared tuna dish with TONS of pepper on it. I love pepper too, but people can go crazy. I could have had a little bigger portion, but it was an appetizer so I didn't expect it.

TAP is a pretty solid spot. I think if I went back it would be for a happy hr or something so I could just try more of their appetizers (seemed like that was the strong part of the menu). Glorified bar food is how I would categorize it if I had to. There wasn't too much negative going on while we were there, but if I had to choose something I would say that they need to fix the bathroom situation (climb three stories to take a leak? not cool). That and our waitress was a joke and could not have cared less. All in all a pretty chill place though. Great beer list, great food, and plenty of room to crush both. Tom top it off, Lorin picked up my tab. Thanks!

Overall - B+
Highlights - Octopus, beer list, and the space
Lowlights - Service