Sunday, January 30, 2011

Old Town Eating: Union Street Public House

Old Town Alexandria's: Union Street Public House

When it comes to dining in Old Town Alexandria, what comes to mind most immediately is Cathal Armstong's burgeoning empire--Restaurant Eve, the Majestic, PX, and Eamonn's--which this year is slated to expand by another 50% with the planned opening of Virtue Feed and Grain (upscale Irish and global comfort food to seat 300) and Society Fair (a European style market with a bakery, butcher shop, wine shop and prepared food store, with nightly food and cocktail demonstrations).

This past weekend we found ourselves on King Street in Old Town without an Armstrong dinner reservation. This lack of planning led to a fun food find. Union Street Public House operates in a renovated Colonial warehouse adjacent to the soon-to-be Virtue Feed and Grain space. The ground floor of the space is a large and loud bar, which was filled to capacity when we showed up late Friday evening. Advised by the bouncer that there was a dining room upstairs, we made a beeline through the crowd to the stairwell. Wrought iron chandeliers, exposed beams and brick, and booth nooks adorned the upstairs space.

My first thought was how similar this place seemed to Durgin Park, a century old Boston institution in an equally touristy area.  At Durgin Park, once you make your way through the first floor bar and upstairs, you also discover an old world charm and some classic (albeit no frills) New England cooking. Is Public House the Old Town equivalent? I am happy to report that is in many ways (minus a century or so of history) it is. The friendly service, the classic reasonably priced dishes, and the draft beers all made this place feel genuine.

An order of Wally’s oysters brought plump bacon topped broiled fried oysters kicked up with pepper butter.

Union Street Public House: Wally's Oysters

The Cioppino, shown in the split portion below, was teeming with fresh seafood, clams, mussels, and white fish.  The dish would have benefited from a bit more heat and pasta cooked a tad more on the al dente side, but it was nonetheless a hearty comfort on a cold night.

Union Street Public House: Cioppino

For dessert we opted for the completely gluttonous option: icebox cake.  While I was expecting something more like Magnolia Bakery’s version, I was not in any way disappointed with the moist tower of cake interlaced with a chocolate buttercream.  This is a chocolate lover's dream.

Union Street Public House: Ice Box Cake

The meal was washed down with a few local draft beers.  We enjoyed lingering over our final sips with the standards and jazz playing in the background.  Dinner for two with shared appetizer, entree, dessert, tax, tip, and three beers was $50.  And while we did not partake, their restaurant week special was a $35 three course dinner for two -- half the price of the standard deal. 

Union Street Public House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fantastic Falafel: Max's

Max's Kosher Cafe Falafel Station

Continuing on this week's defacto theme: Jewish delis -- this time a less-hyped closer to home option -- I bring you Max's Cafe.  My Wheaton-based friends have been raving about the falafel sandwiches here for some time, and they tell me they always make this a key part of their eating itinerary when they have visitors in town. This past Sunday I was able to try it out and, wow, were they on the mark with this recommendation.

This cavernous counter service deli and market with white and black checkerboard floors and bright red banquettes is massive. And even on Sunday morning at 11:15am, just moments after opening, the line of falafel-seeking pilgrims was close to a dozen people long. But no need to worry; Max's has this process down. You order your sandwich at the counter and then head over the falafel/shwarma station.

The guys manning this station are no-nonsense, yet playful, busy hand-making falafel so fresh that as soon as it emerges from the fryer it goes right into pita pockets. And that's when the decisions begin -- dozens of pickled vegetables, fresh chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, humus, tahini, and more to choose from.  And one more choice before your order is complete: mild, medium, or hot. 

I went with pretty much everything at medium heat and was blown away by this sandwich. Falafel can be dry and usually adorned only with a sad slice of tomato and some lettuce. Not here! The still warm falafel were cradled by the humus, enhanced by the pickled vegetables (including cauliflower and eggplant), kicked-up with finely diced jalapenos, and pulled together in the pita. So flavorful, so filling, so good, and so affordable (at $4.95)!

Max's Kosher Cafe: Falafel Sandwich

Max's is worth the trip, about twenty minutes outside DC. Before you go, know that Max's observes the Sabbath, and therefore is closed Friday sundown through Saturday. And the location is not picturesque -- tucked into the corner of a strip mall off of University Blvd -- but the falafel is fantastic!

Max's Kosher Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Food Field Trip NYC: Carnegie Deli

Carnegie Deli is not exactly an unknown food find. You can usually see the lines of hungry tourists well before you see the inside of one of the most famous Jewish delis in the country. But this place is actually worth the hype and can be manageable if you know the tricks.

The most important part of enjoying this landmark eatery is timing. A later lunch (after 2, or perhaps even a tad later on the weekends due to the Broadway matinees nearby) likely means nonexistent lines. Once you get in, be ready for a brash, no-frills experience from start to finish: you are quickly ushered (border-line shoved) to your cramped table, shoulder to shoulder with your neighbor. Your server will arrive shortly thereafter and provide you with no-nonsense (even proudly rude) service. But then the free pickles arrive; by far one of my favorite parts of eating here. These multi-varietal crunchers provide a sweet, salty start to your meal.

Carnegie Deli Pickles
Portions here are infamously huge. So sharing makes sense. But there is a $3 additional fee to share. To get around that, have one person order dessert and one person order an entrĂ©e. This will be more than enough food and gets you around that pesky sharing fee. Prices here aren’t inexpensive; the larger than life sandwiches hover at $20 -- so the sharing fee seems rather petty.

On a cold winter afternoon the Matzoh ball soup ($7.95) is warm and satisfying. The rich homemade chicken soup broth is poured over two baseball size mounds of matzoh. Comfort in a bowl.

Carnegie Deli Matzoh Ball Soup

And the truffle torte cheesecake ($9.95), the size of a small car, provides the best of all desserts in one. Half rich, decadent NY style cheesecake, half equally rich, dark chocolate mousse, and topped with a chocolate ganache, this is one of those treats that causes you to keep indulging long after you are full.

Carnegie Deli Truffle Torte Cheesecake

And right in line with the refusal to accommodate customer whims, the place is cash only. And before standing up to go pay at the register, your server will no doubt bluntly remind you that you leave your tip at the table. This schtick is tiresome, but the food and eating surrounded by thousands of pictures of celebrities in the heart of Manhattan more than makes up for it.

Carnegie Deli on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 24, 2011

Coffee Culture: Caffe Amouri

Caffe Amouri Roaster

A few weeks back the owner and namesake of Caffe Amouri contacted me about his first foray into food (well, technically drink) as a full-time-career. This venture features house-roasted coffee, and the menu includes a dozen or so espresso varietal drinks and more than 20 loose leaf teas. As Michael wrote, Caffe Amouri takes their “offerings very seriously.”

I was torn as to whether to make the trip to try this place out. I am not a coffee drinker and Caffe Amouri is located (gasp) just outside the beltway in Vienna, VA. But I work in Tysons and my coffee-loving friend S works in Vienna, so I decided last Friday to take an afternoon break from my day job to try it out.

My first impressions: we are not in Tyson’s anymore (which is a good thing in my book). The vibe of this corner, sun-filled shop is mellow. Burlap sacks of raw beans surround a larger-than-life bright yellow roaster, from which an aroma of freshly roasted beans fills the air. The walls are adorned with album covers; 80s legends like Boy George and Michael Jackson gaze upon you while you decide on your beverage.

The staff, friendly and knowledgeable, guided S towards a decaf Costa Rican blend and me toward a semi-sweet hot chocolate. S’s eyes rolled back in her head as she savored her coffee. At $5 for a French Press serving that could serve two, it is an affordable luxury.

Caffe Amouri French Press

The Belcolade Belgian hot chocolate was on par with Co Co Sala’s – rich, thick, and indulgent in a simple way that heightened the smoothness of the chocolate.  And while this one requires a drive, it is also almost half the price of Co Co Sala's ($3.55 for 16 oz of milk, semi-sweet, or dark).

Caffe Amouri Belgian Hot Chocolate

I was surprised by how much I liked Caffe Amouri – enough for a return weekend trip for B to try the coffee. The owner's passion in this endeavor is evident. If you work in the area and need a break from the over-the-top type A world that is Tyson’s, this is your answer.

Caffe Amouri on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Munching at the Movies: Arlington Cinema N Drafthouse

Arlington Cinema N Drafthouse

I am not normally a movie snacker.  With the exception of the occasional $5 Diet Coke, I hardly ever consume the sugar infused, mass-produced array of over-priced, over-sized standard movie-fare.  But the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse presents a different opportunity, with waiter service and a menu that claim to be a step up -- albeit a small one in some cases -- from your average theatre. Food options range from pizza to chicken fingers to salmon (!).  The beer selection rivals other local bars with pitchers of some dozen rotating craft brews available for around $20.

It took us Arlingtonians five years to finally give this place a try. Walking in is like stepping into (so I imagine) a 1970s lounge, with orange vinyl swivel chairs and carpeted wall art. Groovy...but I think it's only retro due to not receiving a makeover since then, and therefore is not the cleanest establishment.

Our sever made it very clear from the beginning that food will come out at varying times, so don't even think about complaining about pacing. The reason: people are seated at the same time, by virtue of this being a movie theatre and not a standard restaurant.  Got that?  Good.  But just in case you didn't, the menu, the movie screen, and your servers will remind you. And should you need your server's attention, simply put up your table-tent sign.

Taken on its own, the food is not great (in some cases really bad), but the experience is so much fun, and the beer free flowing that it is easy to overlook the food.  The nachos are topped with that cheez-whiz like substance reminiscent of the kind I used to enjoy with friends while scoping the crowd at the roller skating rink back in Worcester, MA.  Yes, I was that cool!  And while I hate to admit it, on this past trip, I enjoyed this nostalgia that came gratis with the overpriced nachos.

Arlington Cinema N Drafthouse: Chicken Finger Basket

The chicken fingers were probably the best food selection of the night.  Likely frozen, but nicely fried, crisp and juicy, and available with a zesty buffalo sauce. The pizza was doughy and awash in a not-so-flavorful cheese.  And we were not brave enough to try the salmon, so I can't comment on that one.

Is this going to be a world class culinary experience?  Nope.  Can the food anywhere near compete with other Arlington bars?  Unlikely.  But it does make for a really fun evening and a great cold January night out. Though I think for our next trip, we may eat beforehand and stick to the beer.  And while an affordable excursion with movie tickets at only $5.50 -- speaking from experience -- it is easy to run up quite the tab!

Arlington Cinema 'n' Drafthouse on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 17, 2011

Michel Misses the Mark

Michel by Michel Richard, Tyson's Corner

When I first heard that Michel Richard was set to open a restaurant in the former Maestro space at the Tyson's Corner Ritz, my heart fluttered as I eagerly anticipated a foodie lunch spot near my office. Richard's Central is one of my top DC go-to restaurants, delivering playful and always flawless takes on classic French and American dishes. And Citronelle is a DC splurge dining experience that delivers elaborately choreographed service, excellent cuisine, and some whimsical surprises. I thought: how could Michel go wrong--the dining scene in Tyson's is like the traffic, it needs some serious help, is barely tolerable at best, but mostly just frustrating (the now shuttered Inox gave it a go last year but did not succeed).

Lunch with colleagues last week seemed an opportune time to try Richard's newest endeavor for the first time.  I headed over ready to splurge on lunch (entrees between $20 - 27) and introduce my coworkers to the magic of Michel.

The experience started off well.  The restaurant had all the hallmarks I've come to expect from himself: an illuminated stack of plates, a fuchsia dining room, a large visible kitchen.  And on this day, the legendary chef was walking around among us mere mortals, waiving, and monitoring kitchen progress.  How could we go wrong?

Did we ever go wrong.  This lunch, to be crass, sucked.  The service, the pacing, even the quality of the food.  Typing the latter makes me the saddest, but I will elaborate.

The dining room was only about a quarter full, but it still took fifteen minutes for our waitress to  initially greet our party of five.  The wait for wine was another twenty minutes, and our entrees took almost an hour to arrive.  We saw our stern waitress a total of three times during what turned into close to a 2 hour lunch, as wine glasses sat empty and later plates sat uncleared.  The water boy on the other hand was fortunately quite attentive.

As my stomach growled, I thought I could take solace in the fact that when (if?) the food does arrive it will surely smooth over everyone's frustrations.  Incorrect again.   While Central is incredibly consistent food-wise, Michel has not yet gotten into this groove.

Michel: Fried Chicken

I opted for a favorite at Central: fried chicken.  At Michel, the take was juicy, but the breading had a gummy layer that did not adhere to the chicken, causing the chicken to fall apart the minute I cut into it.  A sweet potato puree, while a decent addition on its own, was topped with some sad looking greens, an unworkable combination of contrasting textures.  While the raspberry sauce for the chicken was quite flavorful with an Asian-flare, it did not compliment the sides, making the dish feel and taste fragmented.

Michel: Side of Fries

I will say the presentation was mostly attractive; both the tuna carpaccio and salmon terrine could have doubled as art.  A side of french fries ($8) arrived in a miniature fry basket crisp, hot, and appropriately salted with a trio of dipping sauces. 

I wanted to love Michel.  Instead, I left disappointed and not inclined to go back.  At least at this point, better service and more consistent dishes can be found across the mall at the Cheesecake Factory.  Alas, I am left to conclude the state of Tyson's dining remains dismal.

Michel on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 14, 2011

Food field Trip NYC: Tipsy Parson

Foodie Garogyle Upper West Side

Evidence of the ever-changing nature of the New York City restaurant scene is found in the newly opened Tipsy Parson, a shabby-chic Southern eatery which occupies the space of of a former laundromat. This Chelsea original combines tongue-in-cheek elements (behind a a long church pew a wall papered with faux bookshelves) with takes on classic Southern dishes (grits, hush-puppies). The neighborhood crowd within is a diverse mix of the well healed, well dressed socialites, and fabulous men.

And while the ambiance is enticing, it is the food that is the real draw. The meal starts with a dense, moist take on cornbread served with a pepper jelly. This teaser goes well with any one of their dozen or so whimsical takes on classic drinks like the Tipsy toddy.

Tipsy Parson: Cornbread

Tipsy Parson has a myriad of Southern fried snacks as starters such as mouth-watering briny fried oysters and sweet crunchy hush puppies that yield to a smooth center. Their take on deviled eggs was solid, but nothing extraordinary.

Tipsy Parson: Fried Oysters

The entrees are hearty. Catfish is a tough fish to do delicately, but not here! Their broiled, spice dusted preparation elevated the fish to incredibly tender and flavorful. I would not have guessed catfish could be this good. The mushrooms underneath coupled with a hearty greens saute provided a depth of flavor.

Tipsy Parson: Catfish

The short ribs were similarly elevated, but more in a down home direction -- akin to a pot roast, but much juicier -- and were served a top a mountain of grits.

Tipsy Parson: Shortribs

And desserts are no slouch either. The last of our first choice, the homemade peanut butter cup, was taken by the adjacent table, and I tried my best not to glare or pout in disappointment. Fortunately our waiter stepped in and suggested a bourbon sundae of caramel, hot fudge pecan blondie bites and smoked pecan brittle, with an adult kick of bourbon pecan gelato. And it was definitely big enough to share with some left over among three adults.

Tips Parson: Bourbon Sundae

Other than a service/kitchen timing glitch: our appetizers came out about one minute before our entrees, this was delicious and fun dining experience we hope to repeat.  Prices here are reasonable with entrees in the low to mid 20s.Dinner for two with appetizers, three beers, entrees, and a shared dessert with tax and tip came to $115.

Tipsy Parson on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Food Field Trip NYC: Hill Country Chicken

Hill Country Biscuits

For me, traveling to NYC is always an experience filled with excited anticipation as I scout my next food find. Endless choices sprout seemingly everywhere. So when you live in DC and are only able to experience the culinary menu a few times a year, there are always too many new options to choose from. The new Hill Country Chicken in the Flatiron District proved the best casual food destination of this food field trip.

Picture a 1950s inspired casual dining room complete with Formica table tops and a pastel palette of baby blue, whisper pink, and soft yellow--that is huge by Manhattan standards (and additional seating downstairs). The light-filled dining area is fronted by a long counter that contains a seemingly endless array of fried chicken, biscuits, and pies…so many pies!

The chicken, the star of the show, was not much to look at, but looks can be deceiving. This original recipe Texas-style chicken was impossibly juicy with a zesty coating, truly one of the best pieces of fried chicken we have tasted.

Hill Country Chicken Original Fried Chicken w/Biscuit and Cheesy Potatoes

The cheesy, skin-on "fried" mashed potatoes did not wow the NY Times, but our group of four all raved about this dish.  The potatoes tasted like textbook cheese fries with plenty of tangy cheddar cheese and salty, crunchy bacon, but had the consistency of mashed potatoes.
Hill Country Chicken Strawberry Lemonade

Strawberry lemonade was a welcome rush of summer, and did not not at all taste like the saccharine concoction that the bright pink color would suggest.  It was worth the calories (which can add up with the free refills).
Hill Country Chicken Cowboy Pie

And speaking of calories, a meal here would not be complete without one--or more--of the individual pies. The hands-down favorite of our group was the Cowboy – described as a candy bar in a pie crust. The outer crust gave way to a soft, rich chocolate center surrounded by the crunchy graham cracker crust, toasted pecan, coconut, and butterscotch chips. The silky banana cream and whiskey cream pies were a close second. The one disappointment was a dry apple cheddar pie that screamed out for an ice cream topper!

One can enjoy fried chicken, a side, and a pie for around $12--a bargain for New York!

Hill Country Chicken on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Food Field Trip NYC: Eataly

Eataly, a homage to all things Italian, is the brainchild of Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich.  This group has brought Italy to the masses through PBS, the Food Network, and a myriad of restaurants, of which Babbo has been a favorite, but on my most recent trip failed to deliver on Eatlay's motto "life is too short not to eat well." It seems Batali's energy is clearly focused on Eataly right now.  And it shows...

Eataly is an extremely well executed concept -- it resembles a  cross between a Northern Italian-style food market, and the London Harrod's-style food hall -- that boasts a dizzying array of grocery and sit-down food options.  And while it is tempting to question its authenticity, it is hard to argue with the number of Italians on staff and visiting -- which I'd estimate at about a third of the clientele on a recent Monday afternoon.  

On the grocery side of the house, you can find everything from lardo to pasta and cheese made on site as well as an array of Barilla pasta (also available at your local Giant -- so I recommend skipping that aisle!).

Eataly Pasta Station

Check out the not-so-subtle nod to Mario on the feet of the mistress of ravioli  above. 

Eataly Mozzarella in the Making

The mozzarella is so fresh its made right in front of you.  The gracious cheese maker above gave us a taste of this still warm, creamy, tangy and sweet cheese right out of the vat.  And this level of passion and customer service carried throughout.  Upon finding Coenobium, an Italian white produced by nuns and a favorite of ours being served by the glass in one of the stalls, we inquired as to availability by the bottle.  The woman pouring wine graciously asked her manager, who made it available retail at our request, and several bottles were waiting for us at the register at the adjacent wine store.  Detail, service, and what must be a sizable amount of synchronization makes Eataly a unique standout.

After all that shopping, there are plenty of plated food options--cured meats, fish, pizza, and pasta--for satiating one's appetite.  We opted for the pizza-and-pasta restaurant, where we secured two coveted seats at the bar as we snuck in right before the lunch rush.  Our friendly, knowledgeable server explained the concept as we dug right in to our salad.

Eataly Pickled Vegetable Salad

This simple salad accented with pickled vegetables was quite fresh; the peppery arugula tasted like it was just picked.

Eataly Neapolitan Pizza

The Neapolitan pizza had a flavorful crust, topped with that incredible mozzarella, olives, artichokes, mushrooms,ham, and a tangy, sweet tomato sauce tying the whole thing together.  All the guys making the pizzas seemed to be Neapolitan too.  For $30 with a GUS pomegranate soda, it was a delightful lunch.

So if you find yourself in NYC, Eataly is worth the trip. 

But before I conclude, just a side note on our experience the night prior at Babbo, one my favorite restaurants.  which  managed to disappoint on this visit.  While the service was excellent as usual, the food was only mediocre to really good.  Quite candidly, I expect more from a restaurant that requires multiple redial attempts 30 days in advance for a reservation.  This past trip, we went with friends who had not yet dined at Babbo (though they live in New York, can you believe it?!)  The only dish among the four of us that really wowed was  the goose liver ravioli in a brown butter balsamic sauce.  The beef cheek ravioli, mushroom fettuccine, and the selection of ice creams and sorbet all failed to deliver the exceptional care of preparation that Babbo is known least to us.

So this two-day experience led me to the conclusion that Batali's managerial attention is squarely with Eataly.  So go now, before he moves onto his next big thing!

Eataly on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fabulous French Fries: Eamonn's

Eamonn's: A Dublin Chipper's Chips

B and I are headed to New York this weekend for three days of friends, food, and of course, french fries from our favorite fabulous, no frills (if you don't count the countless dipping sauces) Pomme Frites in the East Village.  But what to do if your weekend plans don't call for such a jaunt?  I recently discovered that Eamonn's in Old Town Alexandria is the answer for hearty, fried-to-order chips with a variety of homemade dipping sauces.

This counter service, dark paneled galley space and homage to all things fried (and I do mean all: dough balls, snickers bars, but to name a few menu choices) is the brainchild of Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve.  The restaurant's brass accents, mirrored walls, and huge community tables are charming, but space is at a premium, so do not expect to linger without getting dirty looks from diners angling for a place to break into their brown paper bag of fried treats.

While Eamonn's is known for its Dublin-style fried fish, the hand cut fries are alone worth the trip, which is precisely the only thing we dined on during our most recent venture.  These hearty fries have a crunchy exterior which yields to an ample potato core.  The mayo-based dipping sauces are all homemade: tartar, Marie Rose, chesapeake, hot chili, Kitty O'Shea, and Fronch. There is also the option of one non-mayo based sauce, curry, which is served hot. Bottles of ketchup and malt vinegar are on the tables.

The only downside we experienced was the wait time for fries alone -- nearly 25 minutes seemed enough time for Ray's to serve you a steak!  Annoying since we did not count on that long of a lag between placing our order and sinking our teeth into the fried goodness. But it is worth the wait which on previous visits had been closer to ten minutes.

And no, these fries will not help with any New Year's resolutions to eat healthy or get fit.  But look at it this way, with all those resolutions out there, perhaps the line will be shorter!  And this is an inexpensive diet-busting splurge at under $5.  So though it may not be gentle on your waistline, it is on your wallet!

Eamonn's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Brunch Done Right: The Tabard Inn

As I have stated before on these pages, brunch is not something that a lot of DC restaurants seem to put much effort into.  For many if not most DC establishments across the spectrum, brunch seems an after-thought, replete with runny eggs, soggy French toast, and abysmal service, which is usually masked by offering-- my head hurts just thinking about it --bottomless rail mimosas or bloody marys.  But I have found that The Tabard Inn has consistently exceeded my brunch expectations.

The bad news first: the intimate series of dining rooms in this Dupont Circle brownstone fill up so quickly that even for a party of two, you need to call at least two weeks in advance.  So stop reading, and go make that call if you think you'd prefer a brunch that decidedly does not include a make-your-own waffle station or bloody mary bar.

The good news: Once you have the reservation, you arrive via the cozy fireplace and lounge at the entrance to the restaurant and find yourself seated and hungry.  What to get?  The homemade fried donuts!  These piping hot, cinnamon-and-sugar-dusted, hot-sticky-doughy balls of goodness come with fresh whipped cream.  At $1.50 each or $9 for a half dozen, the price is right for couples or groups.  And should you be carb loading, fresh bread and a rotating selection of mini-muffins also arrive (gratis) prior to the meal, so you will not leave hungry.

Tabard Inn: Fresh Fried Donuts

As for the savory, Tabard Inn offers both breakfast and lunch options ranging from the classic Eggs Benedict (!) to the more adventurous seared Tasmanian salmon fillet (?).  On this past visit, we stuck to the breakfast entrees, and were both very pleased with our choices.

I opted for the same thing I had on our previous trip: the huevos rancheros, which come on house-made tortillas with two salsas, refried black beans, and avocado.  This dish really comes together with the perfectly fried eggs which, when pierced, allow the egg yoke to escape ever so slightly and flavor the entire dish.  This entree provides a great bite at brunch, and is not nearly as heavy as it sounds.  If I were to suggest one tweak, it would be to up the heat a bit on the salsa. 

Tabard Inn: Huevos Rancheros

B also opted for eggs, but scrambled with cream cheese and chives, served with house-made Toulouse sausage (tastier than it looks), and home fries.  The eggs were pure decadence; the creamy texture and rich flavor was nicely offset but the crunch and zest of the chives.

Tabard Inn: Scrambled Eggs w/Cream Cheese and Chives

I am considering making a standard monthly reservation at the Tabard Inn.  In the last five years, I have not found a better brunch spot in and around DC.  And like with most things in life, you get what you pay for.  Brunch entrees hover around $15, with an average tab for two with tax, and tip at $40.  Budget more if you want to sample any of the breakfast cocktails, though unlike at other spots, they are by no means necessary to stomach the food!

Tabard Inn on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Boston Bites

Dessert at the Last Hurrah, Parker House Boston

My love affair with the food scene in Boston is an open secret, so given our recent trip, Eating Around DC begins 2011 by showcasing some of my favorite Boston bites and sips.  B and I put our--as well as friends' and family's--stomachs to the test in a three day marathon of eating around The Hub. 

Our home away from home in Boston is the stately Parker House. Yes, I sound like an ad, but given the bills our family and we have footed here over the past few years (beginning with our wedding reception in 2006), my credit cards alone can assure you the praise is genuine.  The accommodations are as warm and comforting as the Parker House rolls and the Boston Cream Pie the hotel restaurant gave birth to. The latter dish, coupled with a local Harpoon beer (pictured above), set the tone for this food field trip.

Flour Bakery - Everything Brioche

The first stop of our first morning in the city was Joanne Chang's Flour Bakery's original location in the South End.  This light-filled storefront has the best pastries around.  The star of the show is a simple, divine sugared brioche (far left in the photo above), and then many other variations on that theme. The service at all locations (we also went to their second location on the Waterfront) is friendly, knowledgeable, and passionate about the craft of baking.

Flour Bakery Sticky Brioche Bun

The next morning, there was no sugared brioche left, so I took the opportunity to be even more indulgent with a sticky bun oozing with honey so fresh I questioned whether there was a beehive in the kitchen.  B actually prefers the Waterfront outpost--which occupies the first floor of a former warehouse-- to the original location, but I prefer the neighborhood cozy feel of the South End original.  We learned that Flour now has a third location in Cambridge's Central Square, so if you are ever in greater Boston, there is no excuse to not to give this bakery a try.
Flour Bakery + Cafe on Urbanspoon

Beacon Hill Chocolates

Our last trip, Beacon Hill Chocolates was a shoebox of a chocolate store on a corner of Charles Street, but this time we noticed it had moved into a larger location on the same picturesque block. While the chocolates are easy on the eyes, they dance on the tongue.  We stopped in for a piece or two after lunch, but learned that you can hand select chocolates to fill in their vintage Boston-themed handcrafted artisan boxes online.
Beacon Hill Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Neptune Oyster's Hot Buttered Lobster Roll

A year ago I dedicated an entire post to Neptune Oyster in the city's North End.  But their hot buttered lobster roll is so out of this world (and their oyster selection second to none) that I can't let it go unmentioned.  Not only is the seafood fantastic, but the atmosphere, while cramped, is cozy (in a good way) and charming.
Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon

The Parker House's Apple Martini

Where else do you get a martini presented on a silver tray, shaken table side by the seasoned (and unionized) waiters, accompanied with warm nuts for around $11 in an old world bar with standards in the background?!  Cheers to the Parker House.
Last Hurrah on Urbanspoon

Mike's Chocolate Chip Cannoli

And while the cannoli debate continues among locals and tourists alike - Maria's, Modern, or Mike's -  for me, I have always turned into the tourist-favorite Mike's for a fresh cannoli (though the ricotta is slightly sweeter than the other two).  But you really cannot go wrong at any of the three. 

But before you grab the cannoli, for an Italian North End dinner as genuine as it gets, I recommend the tiny, no frills Ida's.  The family-run restaurant is only open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and serves consistently excellent meatballs, chicken parmigiana, and veal saltimbocca, none of which comes in at over $18 a plate.  Be sure to call about a week ahead for reservations.  Donna, who has run the entire dining room since we lived there pre-2005, is a warm, wonderful Boston original. 

Ida's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Anna's Taqueria is not pictured, but let me assure you that it was visited. We manged to fit Anna's in a personal best of three times within a four day period!  Spending close to $50 dollars total there over such a short period time is quite a feat, but I still contend this is the best burrito anywhere, due in large part to the fresh-made ingredients and some sort of magic that happens when the cheese is steamed into the tortilla.  Please, please consider franchising in DC!

So now its off to the gym to dodge the New Years Resolutionaries and begin 2011.