Sunday, February 27, 2011

Are cupcakes God?

Georgetown, the capital's capital for all things cupcake, never fails to deliver varied and amusing scenes.  Today, Baked and Wired asserted on their storefront placard that "Cupcakes are God."  Overstated maybe, but, insightful, right?  Not for one passerby--seemingly not 100% with it--who took extreme umbrage to this theological assertion.  Yelling to no one and everyone as he walked up and down the street, this gentleman exclaimed that cupcakes may be "good - G - O - O - D, but they ain't God."  To bolster his argument, he stated that he had taken communion at the cathedral this morning and it was not in the form of a cupcake. His rant, repeated multiple times, ended with an emphatic "HA!"

But might he be onto something?  Never have I found my master's in theological studies a useful tool for my food blogging, but given the ever-increasing lines at the cupcake shops in Georgetown and the myriad of churches in the neighborhood that go half full each Sunday, perhaps dolling out cupcakes (mini ones to be economical of course) could be a win-win for filling empty pews?  Sacrilege, I know, but frankly, not a bad idea.

In other news, Baked and Wired is offering "Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes"  in celebration of St. Patrick's Day on March 17th.  But if you can't wait until then, Sprinkles brings more sweetness to the Georgetown cupcake madness on March 3rd.  So, HA!

Baked & Wired on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 25, 2011

Metro 29 Diner: Ooey Gooey French Toast

Metro 29 Diner: French Toast

A craving for french toast last Sunday left us stumped, but multiple google searches--validated by a friend's recommendation--revealed that Metro 29 Diner is known for its Challah bread varietal.  Recently visited by the bleach-blonde, brash, Food Network Guy Fieri on his Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, Metro 29 is a classic no-frills Greek diner on Arlington's Lee Highway.  Its penguin-suited waitstaff  promptly serve up grub behind a bar backed by cases full of towering cakes.

Despite the Internet accolades, I was slightly hesitant to go back to Metro 29. Past brunch visits disappointed with heavy, heavy, heavy options, including an egg white omelet that practically necessitated a nap...I could not imagine the side effects of the whole egg varietal. On another trip, some forgettable pancakes were accompanied by the environmentally unfriendly and wholly unorganic Smucker's individual serving syrup.  And then there was the time we asked about the fresh squeezed orange juice, labeled as such on the menu, and saw a waiter pouring a glass of "not-from-concentrate" orange juice right out of a Tropicana carton.  This claim is a stretch at best and blatant false advertising at worst.

But despite these flaws, the french toast lived up to the hype and is worth the trip.  The indulgent slices of housemade challah are dipped in an egg bath and served hot off the grill.  The crispy exterior yields to a warm, gooey center with hints of custard, cinnamon, and vanilla.  For $9, two slices come topped with a mountain of your favorite breakfast meat, which in my case is crispy, greasy bacon. 

The crowds on weekends can be overwhelming, but if you are a party of one or two, you can usually snag a seat at the small counter to the left side of the hostess stand without having to wait.  Service is brisk, efficient, and at some junctures friendly.  And like any good diner experience, you have to pay at the counter following your meal. 

Metro 29 Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mesmerizing, Magical, Majestic

The Majestic: Amish Chicken with Fettuccine

Until last week, I had experienced the pleasure of indulging at three of Cathal Armstrong's establishments -- Eamonn's, Eve (both the tasting room and bistro, pre-blog), and PX. -- but had yet to try Majestic.  This was not for lack of effort -- "Nana's Sunday Dinner," a family-style prix fix, is a hard reservation to get.  But the magic of a rare 60+ degree evening in mid-February changed our luck and B and I walked in and got an early table without a reservation last Thursday.

The understated dining room is backed by classic diner tunes playing at a volume appropriate for conversation.  And the friendly, accommodating staff (we had to be in and out in an hour and our waitress graciously coordinated with the kitchen) set the tone for what would be an unpretentious but indulgent meal that will have us coming back often.

This is the type of comfort food that you wish would find its way to your neighborhood.  The dishes seem effortless in the warmth that they bring to your table, but the scene from the open kitchen makes it clear that they are anything but.  Amish chicken with a side of creamy house made fettuccine was hearty and flavorful drawing out the natural richness of the dark meat.  A special of veal osso bucco was fragrant in an herbed gravy set off in both color and flavor by the saffron risotto nestled below. 

A side of Chef Red's (named for head chef "Red" Overmiller) onion rings, thick cut and fried tempura style, were accompanied by housemade ketchup, an aoli, and Ranch dipping sauces.  This order was totally gratuitous on our part, but also one that was greatly enjoyed.

And while prior plans did not permit time for dessert, the truffles that accompany the check were filled with decadent dark chocolate studded with chocolate chips and rolled in coconut.  If this one bite tease is any indication of what those delicious towering cakes yield, I will surely allow time for dessert on our next visit.

Two glasses of wine, two entrees, side, tax, and tip came to $105.

Majestic on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 17, 2011

DC Represents: The People's Best New Chef

Four DC-area chefs snagged nominations in the Mid-Atlantic category of Food and Wine's People's Best New Chef Contest.  And unlike most industry awards, this one allows the eaters (us!) to pick the winner.

And since I pride myself on being an over-achiever-eater, Eating Around DC has feasted on the fabulous but varied cuisines of each of the four chefs--on multiple occasions.  It is going to be a tough choice, as these chefs all manage to combine the traditional with the trendy across cuisines as diverse as Italian, French, Cajun/Creole and American classics; dining experiences range from counter service to white-table cloth elegance. 

Linked below are the reviews of the four nominees' restaurants in the last year -- guaranteed to make your mouth water.  This is going to be a tough choice... I am still deciding on which one will earn my vote.  What do you think?

Kyle Bailey, Birch and Barley
Daniel Giusti, 1789
David Guas, Bayou Bakery
Nicholas Stefanelli, Bibiana

Voting is open through March 1st on CNN's Eatocracy, so go support the DC food scene and vote.  No matter which chef wins, let's see DC on top.  And if you were looking for an excuse to get out this weekend, now you have four -- after all, all voters should be as well-educated as they are well-fed!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2 Amys: Naples in Northwest

2 Amys

A few years ago my hankering for good pizza in DC always led back to the same place: 2 Amys.  In recent years, the DC pizza puzzle has been much easier to solve thanks to brick oven offerings such as MatchboxFireworks, and Pete's Apizza.  But for certified (2 Amys is a card-carrying member of the Verace Pizza Napoletana) Neapolitan pizza, 2 Amys remains second to none in DC.

The family-friendly prices almost always bring a loud and rambunctious atmosphere to the dining room -- not always the most relaxing evening.  But I recently discovered that 2 Amys to-go travels splendidly.  A few weeks ago B readily volunteered to pick up this treat on his way home from work--could that be because of the quality, affordable Italian wine selection by the glass and small bites available at the bar while he waits?  I think so.  But I'll take it!

Last week, a starter of polpettes was ample for sharing among three.  These fork tender, bite-size meatballs were almost sweet and complimented by a generous douse of tangy marinara sauce.

The pizzas that followed -- Margarita, Santa Brigida, Norcia  -- all had a nicely charred, chewy crust with just the right amount of sweet and salt contrast.  The toppings were fresh, flavorful, and would have been a treat on their own. Rich mozzarella, house-cured salami, and peppery arugula added great flavor to that textbook crust.

The WaPo food critic asserts that 2 Amys has lost its luster, but in my experience, 2 Amys is still an authentic, delicious treat.  This Italian escape runs about $12 per individual pizza.

2 Amys on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 14, 2011

Food Field Trip Vieques: El Quenepo

Vieques Island: Green Beach

B and I just returned from a week long vacation on the small island of Vieques, which is just off the east coast of the main island of Puerto Rico. We spent the majority of our time last week laying on the island's white sand beaches and snorkeling amid its shore-side reefs.  And I swear I was not going to blog about food on this trip -- this was after all a retreat from reality where my blackberry did not have service even when I wanted to cave and check-in with the world.  But then we had a meal that was quite possibly one of the best we've had in the past year (anywhere) and I thought couldn't go without mention on this blog -- so out came the camera and the mental note-taking.  Sometimes I just can't help myself!  If by any chance you do make it to Vieques, you will not be disappointed with El Quenepo.

Located along a small row of guest houses, bars, and restaurants along the Caribbean Sea in the tiny village of Esperanza, El Quenepo is best experienced after a spectacular February (insert month here) island sunset.  The restaurant faces the ocean and its dining room is marked by understated island decor and white tablecloth, candle lit tables.  The menu consists of some eight appetizer and ten entree options, and the night we were there, they had an additional three and five respective caught-that-day specials.  Our service was flawless (and this was uncommon if not completely nonexistent on this sleepy island); our server explained in great detail and with abounding knowledge all of the evening's specials.  Unable to decide on the dizzying array of food choices, we started by ordering a bottle of Albarino, an unobtrusive Spanish white wine which would pair well with most any fish item and cool us off after an afternoon in the sun.

My conch chowder was rich and creamy; a seemingly New England style chowda-base with tender pieces of conch was complimented by crispy corn and tender potato cubes and topped with a dollop of creme fraiche.  This could have been a meal in and of itself.

The sushi appetizer special of the evening was an overflowing California roll with melt in your mouth tuna topping the ample sized pieces filled with crunchy cucumbers and topped with microgreens.

After these appetizers we shared a unique take on Caesar salad; its crisp romaine leaves were offset by tangy artichokes and the requisite Parmesan shavings.

El Quenepo: Spiny Lobster

And believe it or not, this was all before the entrees.  We definitely over-ordered a bit.  The tender, meaty spiny lobster--caught that day, chosen from three weight sizes--was served over a fettuccine in a tomato cream sauce enhanced with spinach and poached baby shrimp and pesto.

El Quenepo: Shrimp and Lobster in a Mofongo Basket

El Quenepo knew their local lobster.  Our other lobster of the evening was placed in a twice-fried so-called "mofongo" basket.  In both San Juan and Vieques, we sampled our share of mofongos, but none tasted like this.  This hearty version used mashed breadfruit (pictured) in place of the traditional plantains.  We were unfamiliar with breadfruit, so the owner eagerly walked outside to her backyard and brought us one to see.  It goes without saying that fresh and local ingredients dominated the menu, and the apt chefs made each dish more memorable than the last.

Dessert choices were almost as tough to choose from as the entrees and every bit as creative and flavorful.  We were so stuffed at this point, so I was so happy that we lingered long over dessert.  The deconstructed apple pie--which rivaled the creative selections of Restaurant Eve's tasting room--consisted of a poached apple filled with caramel popcorn gelato, nestled beside house made peanut brittle, and leaned on a four cheese biscuit accented with coral-like sugar art.  Every bite of this dessert popped!

El Quenepo: Deconstructed Apple Pie

A lot of dining rooms in exotic locales survive and even thrive simply because of the location.  El Quenepo would be exquisite anywhere, even the spectacular waterside views paled in comparison to the meal.  The prices matched, but this was well worth the cost.  Three appetizers, two entrees, dessert, wine, tax, and tip came to $250.

Friday, February 11, 2011

District Taco: Now with a roof!

District Taco: Burrito Mojados

While trucks, carts, and all manner of food-on-wheel options permeated DC this summer, what happens when the weather is too cold for street meat?  While in the case of District Taco, it means coming inside and expanding their meals on wheels empire with a brick-and-mortar operation.  While District Taco's carts continue to thrive, the Arlington storefront on Lee Highway provides slightly more formal amenities, like seats and a bathroom!

Obviously, the tacos are the showpiece, but being a sucker for a good burrito, I went all out on a recent visit and ordered the burrito mojades.  I turned the heat up on this burrito--already spicy--with the addition of fresh diced jalapenos.  Ample portions of black beans, rice, and chicken, topped with a spicy chili-laced salsa and a mercifully cooling swirl of sour cream, result in a hearty lunch that requires a seat indeed as you will need a knife and fork to tackle this burrito.

The passion behind this project is clear, and I was impressed to see an employee making the rounds of the small dining room to ensure everyone was enjoying their lunch.  And the burrito was really good; though I still think Pedro and Vinny's (yes, a food cart) is the best in the city.  And as for best ever, Boston-based Anna's Taqueria still has my heart (and stomach).

A tasty burrito and a Boylan's fountain soda was $10.  While this is not worth the trip across the city; if you are in the area it is a solid, casual lunch option, and definitely exceeds the offerings at omnipresent Chipotle and Baja Fresh chains.

District Taco on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Best Burger in DC: Rustico Ballston

Perhaps second only to specialty cupcake shops, DC has experienced a surge in dedicated burger joints.  But after a life-changing burger experience this past weekend, I would like to nominate yet another contender, which in my opinion surpasses all the others: Rustico Ballston's dry aged cheddar cheese burger.

Rustico's Dry Aged Burger

A hearty portion of savory, flavorful meat (cooked to order) is sandwiched in between a toasted house-made brioche bun and smothered with tangy cheddar cheese.  The richness of this unbelievably juicy burger is cut with a red wine shallot aioli.  And do not let the large mountain of hand cut fries in the photo above fool you; this is one big burger.  The crisp and salty skin-on fries are ideal to mop up the burger juices.  And if all this was not enough, add not one, but two varietals (both traditional and smoked) of homemade ketchup.  Burger nirvana awaits...

Rustico: Star Hill Love

And if you can handle it, pair this burger with one of close to 50 beers on tap (and an even greater selection by the bottle). I opted for Star Hill's Love, a floral, wheat beer; B went with Sierra Nevada's Hoptimum brewed with whole cone flower hops packing a punch at 10.4% alcohol and 16 ounces.  And to make this meal even better and more wallet friendly come during happy hour every day from 5 - 7 when all beers are $2 off.

While service glitches are still a mainstay, any hassle is worth it; this is the best burger I've tasted in the DC area.

Rustico on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 4, 2011

Digitally Dining: DC Douchebaggery...Or Why I Need a Vacation

Cactus Cantina: Chips with a side of Self Importance

Yes, yes... I know DC is a high strung, Type A, around-the-clock work city.   But having said that, this scene left me agape.  Look closely.  Not only is the guy in the puffy vest texting (vice engaging with his dinner companions, which is sadly not all that an uncommon of a site in the metro area), but the first thing he did upon being seated was whip out a stand for his smart phone.  Really?!  Is this typical behavior?  I guess he should be applauded for his ingenuity in avoiding carpal tunnel risks.

And if you couldn't guess from the tortilla chips, frosty beer mug, and plastic red glasses of water, this was not a power establishment.  If you cannot relax and enjoy (okay, tolerate) the (mediocre) food at Cactus Cantina -- or as B and I like to call it, the Poor Man's Lauriol-- where can you? 

And with this DC Dining experience emblazoned in my memory, I am headed to a tropical isle to eat, drink, and relax -- electronic devices excluded!  But fear not, new content will appear on Eating Around DC thanks to some already scheduled posting -- I guess I am a Washingtonian after all!

Cactus Cantina on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lyon Hall's Bounteous Brunch

Our first meal at Lyon Hall, right after it opened last spring, made us question whether this place was ready for prime time.  But after working out some kinks, menu tweaks, adding a daily happy hour (5-7)* and weekend brunch, I am pleased to report that Lyon Hall is now ready for the Arlington dining spotlight.

Brunch this past Sunday was everything a good brunch should be.  James Taylor crooned in the background of the bright, window lined downstairs dining room.  And to start: donuts!  We opted for a mocha glazed and an Earl Grey from their selection of fresh-fried donuts.  Both were fantastic airy, slightly misshapen, and humongous.  The Earl Grey was surprisingly sweet, with a sugar glaze and just a hint of its namesake; the mocha glaze was rich, with a semi-sweet chocolate glaze kicked up with a coffee infusion.  At $3 each or four for $9, the mouth watering selection changes weekly. The Lyon Hall kitchen knows their pastries, whipping up tasty treats for not only this restaurant, but their sisters Northside Social and Liberty Tavern as well.

Lyon Hall: Mocha Donut

And I did not think it could get any better, but it did!  B and I uncharacteristically got the same entree: three eggs your way over a short rib potato hash.  One word: decadent.  And this descriptor is in spite of the fact that we both chose egg whites.  This dish clicked.  From the foundation of wine braised short ribs seared with potatoes, to the fluffy egg whites, to the bitter greens with a light vinaigrette, the preparation was both unique and flawless.

Lyon Hall: 3 Eggs over Short Rib Potato Hash

Unlike on previous visits, our server was knowledgeable and attentive, even with a full dining room.  I dare say that this brunch rivals the Tabard Inn (without the month wait time--at Lyon Hall we actually got a same day reservation).  If you are so inclined, $5 Bloody Marys and Mimosas are also available. Two donuts, two entrees, tax, and tip came to $40.

*On a recent Sunday night happy hour trip we enjoyed $3 beers while seemingly surrounded in a sea of meet ups.  Great beer and some fun people watching too.  Is Sunday night the new blind date night?  Let me know, dear readers, I am out of the loop!

Lyon Hall on Urbanspoon