Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Captain Cookie & the Milkman, a mobile bakery.

Captain Cookie & the Milkman, a mobile bakery.

If you read my blog, then you probably know one of my biggest weakness when it comes to sweets: chocolate chip cookies. It’s nearly impossible for me to resist a warm, chocolatey cookie, straight from the oven with a chewy center and crisp edges.

With that said, I’ve embarked on the sweetest mission ever: to find the best chocolate chip cookies in Washington, D.C. Over the past few weeks, I have been working on an article for Serious Eats, a food blog based out of New York City. I chose seven of the best chocolate chip cookies in the District and organized a slideshow with my own photographs as well. Expect the article to run in the next few weeks.

J. Chocolatier, a bakery in Georgetown.

J. Chocolatier, a bakery in Georgetown.

In the meantime, I’ve created a map of my favorite spots for chocolate chip cookies in the city. Use it as a quick guide to see what’s around the area you’re in. And hey, you never know – you might live next door to the best chocolate chip cookie in D.C.


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This week, my review of a food truck called Busia’s Kitchen is featured in the Baltimore City Paper. It’s always so cool to see your work in print. Check out it here: http://citypaper.com/eat/busia-8217-s-kitchen-1.1446637. The mother-daughter team that runs the truck prepares traditional Polish recipes that their own Busia (a Americanized Polish term of endearment for Grandma) used to make. I feasted on pierogis (Polish dumplings), golabkis (stuffed cabbage) and more.

Below are some photos from my experience that didn’t make it into the City Paper. This food truck’s definitely got some personality!

Busia's Kitchen is open for business.

Busia’s Kitchen is open for business.

Is that the Busia?

Is she the Busia?


Can’t find these prices in D.C.!

Busia's Kitchen Mobile Food Truck on Urbanspoon

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A New York City Review: Bowery Eats

Having just walked two miles from New York’s Penn Station with a 30 pound backpack on my shoulders, a heavy pea coat in one arm and a large pizza cookbook I’d just bought from Eataly in the other (Impulse buy? I say YES.), I was more than ready to sit down. I arrived at Chelsea Market, a large indoor market with gourmet food shops and eateries, during prime lunch hour, when seating was scarce. I decided to kill some time in one of the shops, Bowery Kitchen Supply, until the rush died down.

Bowery Kitchen is a beautiful store that is loaded with every sort of home and commercial kitchen item you could imagine. I picked up a reasonably priced whisk and spatula (as if I could possibly carry more?). As I was standing in line, I heard a woman behind me shouting out order numbers and handing out sandwiches tightly wrapped in white paper. How had I missed this?

Bowery Eats.

Bowery Eats.

Apparently, I’d walked past this tiny deli several times without noticing it. Nestled alongside aisles of cutting boards, mandolins and commercial deep fryers is Bowery Eats. A rectangular chalkboard shares Bowery Eats’ selections. Be forwarned:  the menu is enormous and everything looks good.

For once, I knew exactly what I wanted. The French Tuna: white albacore tuna, black olives and capers tossed with olive oil, mixed greens, tomato and a vinaigrette on your choice of bread. The combination of well, everything, on this sandwich just sounded incredible. For my bread, I chose a whole-wheat baguette.

Several other options caught my eye: the Homemade Roast Beef with onion, watercress, tomato and homemade horseradish, the French Cuban with roasted pork, ham, Swiss, pickles and Dijon, and the Juan Manuel with chicken, prosciutto, Muenster cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo.

It’s nice to know that if nothing appeals to you (which will probably not be the case), then you can choose from a large list of meats, cheeses, veggies, dressing, breads or wraps and create your own sandwich.

Thankfully, by the time I received my sandwich, Chelsea Market had emptied out a little and I was able to find a seat. Phew. It had never felt better to sit down. I unwrapped my sandwich and took a good look. Initially, the amount of tuna seemed sparse, overtaken by a forest of mixed greens and a whole lot of bread.

Greens galore?

Greens galore?

Fortunately, the bread was delicious: perfectly crusty with a nutty, subtle honey flavor. In fact, this bread was so good that it actually took away from the flavor of the tuna. I probably should have chosen a more neutrally flavored bread. Perhaps a wrap? That’s okay. I’d much rather have an ingredient that is too good any day.

The tuna, however, was the true winner in this sandwich. I wished there had been about twice as much (again, this could have been due to a poor bread choice). I did notice that the black olives were cut the same size as the capers, the kind of attention to detail I like to see. The olives and capers brought the otherwise bland tuna to life: the capers gave saltiness and the olives a slight bitterness that were balanced perfectly by the lemony vinaigrette. The greens gave vivid color, texture and a little crunch, too. On the other hand, the anemic tomato did absolutely nothing for this sandwich. Flavorless and even a bit mushy, this poor guy just didn’t make the cut. I know it’s not the right season for tomatoes, but that’s why we have hydroponics, right?

The French tuna sandwich has all the components for greatness, with varied flavors and textures. Just make sure you choose your bread wisely. Oh, and don’t show up with about 40 pounds worth of stuff you’re lugging around town. That probably didn’t help.

It’s too bad Bowery Eats isn’t exactly close to me in D.C. Even so, we’ve got our own share of sandwich gems here, notably Fast Gourmet near W and 14th Street. And the Chivito, their signature sandwich, really is that good. I guess you’ll just have to go and find out for yourself.

Bowery Eats on Urbanspoon

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On Thanksgiving day this year, my family and I dined at 1789 in Georgetown. The lessons about cooking turkey I had learned from Chef the previous day came in handy during the meal. Read on for my review!

When it comes to holidays, I’m a traditionalist. For our Thanksgiving meal, my family did not want to dine at a crazy modern-looking establishment, but rather in a classic, traditionally furnished dining room. 1789 fit the criteria – the cozy atmosphere was just right for an indulgent Thanksgiving meal.


The John Carroll Room at 1789

The name “1789” represents the year in which John Carroll founded Georgetown University.  However, the restaurant did not come into play until 1960, when a Georgetown alumnus, Richard McCooey, converted an old Federal period building near the university into a French inspired, American restaurant that he named 1789. After expanding into adjacent properties, McCooey sold everything to Clyde’s Restaurant Group in 1985. Clyde’s was then able to expand 1789, opening six additional dining rooms, each with a different personality.

My family opted for the John Carroll room, with a big fireplace and elegant, antique dining room furniture.


Three Squash Soup with Creme Fraiche and a Toasted Brioche Crostini

Executive chef Anthony Lombardo created a special Thanksgiving menu with a $50 pre-fixe and a la carte options as well. The prix-fixe included a first course pear and Bleu cheese salad or squash soup, a second course turkey dinner and choice of dessert.


Brussels Sprout Salad with Endives, Pecorino Cheese and a Whole Grain Dijon Vinaigrette

My parents chose the prix-fixe, while I ordered a Brussels sprout salad for my appetizer. The entrees listed on the menu, such as Norwegian salmon and rack of lamb, sounded appealing, but I had no interest in them. I ordered the turkey dinner with “all the trimmings,” including mashed vanilla sweet potatoes, green beans, sausage stuffing and cranberry sauce.

Thanksgiving equals turkey. I told you, I’m a traditionalist.

Our appetizers were all excellent, as were the accompanying Parker House Rolls. I could go on about how soft and sinfully buttery these rolls were, but what I really want to focus on the main course.

The careful presentation at 1789 was the antithesis to the traditional Thanksgiving smorgasbord. I can’t remember a year where my plate did not look like a disaster zone. The marshmallow topping on that yam dish bleeds into the mashed potatoes (Yes, two types of potatoes on one plate), which runs into creamy green bean casserole – you get the picture. It’s a mess.

680290_4215247384766_1492613651_o1789 makes a plate of Thanksgiving food attractive and stylish. Slices from the breast were stacked on top of the darker leg meat, achieving a sense of height on the plate. Underneath the turkey were string beans with a rich, green color that attracted the eye. Behind the turkey was a small stuffing “cake” that held its shape perfectly. A smear of mashed sweet potatoes on the bottom cemented everything to the plate.

The final touch was the gravy. The chef must have experimented beforehand to find the ideal amount for the plate. Speckled with intensely green chopped parsley, it was spread evenly across the center of the plate, staying a considerable distance away from the rims.

Before I devoured this aesthetically beautiful plate of food, I asked our waiter how the turkey had been prepared. The breasts were first brined, and then roasted. The legs were slowly braised. The giblet and bones were used to make a stock, which was then incorporated into a gravy.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

1789’s turkey was moist and flavorful. I only wish there had been more on the plate. The giblet gravy, as it was described on the menu, was not quite as successful. I found the gravy bland and a bit watery. I wonder what happened, because it had great potential.

The green beans had a charred flavor that added another element of flavor to the dish. Their vivid “greenness” also added much needed color to the plate.

The mashed sweet potatoes were silky smooth in texture, the only drawback being an unnecessary vanilla flavor. As a result, the sweet potatoes lost their earthy sweetness and tasted almost artificial.

The stuffing was nicely browned on top, but the promised sausage was sparse. However, I loved the idea of an individualized stuffing “cake.” It appeared as though the stuffing had been portioned ahead of time into a muffin pan and then baked. I can understand how this might make plating easier in a high-volume restaurant. It’s simple – just pop it out of pan and place it on the plate. There’s no mess, either.

The cranberry sauce, with a hint of orange flavor, was the right amount of sweet. Served in a bowl family style, 1789’s rendition was far superior to the Jello-like canned variety that I remember from my childhood.

For dessert, my dad and I ordered a pumpkin mousse cake, while my mom opted for the gingerbread spongecake. The candied pumpkin seeds on top of my dessert and the mini gingersnaps on top of my mom’s added a crunch to the cakes.

At the end of the meal, I was pleasantly satisfied, but not stuffed. Even so, I still wanted seconds and possibly even thirds. Feasting to no avail is Thanksgiving tradition, right? At the same time, it was nice to skip the turkey coma for once.

I applaud Chef Lombardo’s innovative take on the traditional Thanksgiving dinner at 1789.
Photo: http://www.1789restaurant.com/main/home.cfm?PageID=4

1789 on Urbanspoon

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I first tasted a Philly Soft Pretzel from an Amish vendor at Reading Terminal Market a few months ago. Warm and buttery with a golden brown crust and doughy center, this was nothing like the Auntie Anne’s pretzels I had as a kid. I haven’t forgotten it since, so when I discovered a recent little spot in D.C. called The Pretzel Bakery, I jumped out of my seat.

Philly native and D.C. resident Sean Haney started baking his variation on the classic pretzel for family and friends a few years ago. Wanting to share his recipe with Washingtonians, Haney opened The Pretzel Bakery in Hill East near Eastern Market a few months ago. On its first day, the bakery completely sold out of pretzels.

Haney has found his niche in the “we only serve one kind of food but we do it really, really well” trend that is quickly spreading throughout the District. Specialty shops that only sell one food of superior quality, or restaurants with one concept such as Toki Underground’s ramen noodles, or New Orleans Po’ Boy Shop’s sandwiches are big right now. I find that more and more people are willing to go out of their way like I did (I live across town in Adams Morgan) and spend a few extra dollars on one delicious product.

Sandwiched between red and tan painted row houses, The Pretzel Bakery’s location in a residential neighborhood is a bit odd. The red awning and large umbrella on the front patio stand out from the street, while a chalkboard sign on the ground outlines the bakery’s simple, but smart concept – Pretzels, coffee, soda and water.

To accompany your pretzel, the bakery also offers Gulden’s spicy brown mustard (from Milton, Pa., north of Philly), caramel mustard, Nutella and Philly cream cheese.

Haney hand rolls, twists and bakes his pretzels from scratch daily. They are $2 each, $5 for three or $18 for a dozen. After ordering your pretzel at the front door (it’s more like a half door-half window), you pay, and then wait a short time. You can enjoy your pretzels on the front patio underneath the umbrella or take them to go.

I opted for three pretzels with sides of Nutella and Gulden’s mustard. Not mixed together of course, but one pretzel dipped in mustard and then the other dipped in Nutella.

Haney’s pretzel has a golden brown color on top and is speckled with sea salt. The pretzel appears small, but it is much thicker than ones I’ve had in the past. The shape varies slightly from a stereotypical soft pretzel, giving it a personal, handmade feel. Because this pretzel is so thick, I expected it to be too doughy. To my surprise, the center was light and airy.

I matched my first pretzel with mustard and the second with Nutella. The third I saved for later. Each condiment shined in a different way – the acidity of the mustard and the sweetness of Nutella both worked to balance out the saltiness of the pretzel. This was good stuff.

Haney’s pretzels are not an exact copy of the Philly staple, but why should they be? (If you want to have a real Philly pretzel, then go to Philly!) Like popular D.C. sandwich shop Taylor Gourmet puts a spin on the classic Philly Hoagie, Haney crafts a unique personality for the Philly soft pretzel.

If only The Pretzel Bakery wasn’t so far away from my apartment. Haney should consider the Adams Morgan/Dupont Circle late night food scene – I can most definitely bet there is a market for a soft pretzel with Nutella at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. I know I’d be in line.



The Pretzel Bakery on Urbanspoon

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On a Saturday night, customers arrive as early as 4:45 p.m. to secure a table at one of D.C.’s hottest (literally) restaurants. From the perspective of passersby, it must be a peculiar site – a line of fifty or so people, lined up nearly all the way to the CVS on the corner of 17th and P Street (here’s a blogger who snagged a photo – http://czdyer.blogspot.com/2012/03/little-serow.html).

When you finally make it to the front of the line,  you will see a set of steps leading down to an unmarked door. Inside is Little Serow. The restaurant takes no reservations, but the long wait for a table in the tiny, 28-seat dining room is more than worth it.

Johnny Monis opened Little Serow nearly a year ago just a few doors down from his highly acclaimed restaurant, Komi. Little Serow describes its cuisine as “Family style…northern and northeastern Thai.”

Little Serow offers diners the chance to try Monis’ food at a price that is far more affordable than Komi. For $45 a person, customers can enjoy seven courses of varying spiciness. The menu is pre-selected and changes periodically.

Before dining at Little Serow last weekend, I had read warnings of the restaurant’s spicy reputation. I figured it couldn’t be that bad.

Oh, how wrong I was.

After arriving at Little Serow around 5:10 p.m., Paul and I made it to the front by 5:30 p.m. Inside, the hostess informed us that we would be able to be seated at 8:30 p.m. Paul looked at me and whispered, “Um, can we talk about this first?”

You know you have a good boyfriend when he agrees to wait three hours for a table.

I gave the hostess my phone number, and was promised a text when our table was ready. We could go anywhere we wanted in the meantime. We could have run errands, even gone home and taken a nap. I hope this catches on elsewhere. It makes way more sense than those stupid pagers that don’t let you go more than 10 feet from the restaurant.

We found a nearby bar with unbelievably cheap happy hour specials and set up camp. At 8:14 p.m., I received a very exciting text message. (I hope they appreciated my enthused response!)

You’d never think that Little Serow’s dining room is a basement. According to an article in Bon Appetit magazine, this space once belonged to a Dunkin’ Donuts.

The painted seafoam green brick walls and the solid, concrete floor come alive with low, dramatic lighting. A bar runs along the right side, while tables line the wall on the left. The open kitchen in the back of the dining room invites the diner to watch as their meals are prepared.

Silverware and a paper napkin arranged on top of what looked like a paper plate decorated the tabletop. I realized that this plate was actually ceramic, a subtle reminder of Little Serow’s unpretentious ambience.

A single candle on our table illuminated the night’s menu. Each course was written in Thai, with ingredients listed in English below.

Throughout the meal, our table would be fully stocked with two items: sticky white rice and a basket of vegetables and greens such as cucumbers, radishes and lettuce. Our server encouraged us to experiment with these accompaniments, using them as utensils or as remedies for our soon to be fiery palates.

Jeow mak len, or crispy pork rinds (which seem to be all the rage these days at fine-dining establishments), started our meal off with a crunch. These salty, light and airy little treats set a strong tone for the rest of the meal.

In the photo on the left, notice the two plates. One is the “paper” plate I mentioned earlier, and the other has a Thai-inspired floral decoration around the rim. Attention to detail is impressive here – everything at Little Serow, down to each and every plate, is chosen for a reason.

The next two courses, yam makeua and tom kha pla duk, arrived at the same time. The first, a salad of eggplant and salted duck egg quickly picked up the heat. The second, a soup of galangal, a close relative of ginger, chilies and catfish was a substantial notch above mild as well.

The sliced thick cucumbers and stunning watermelon radishes arranged in the basket next to me were starting to look very appealing.

Courses four and five marked the meal’s spicy climax. Laap chiang mai, or finely chopped pork combined with lemongrass and sawtooth (an herb likened to cilantro) was so flavorful that I forgot for a moment just how incredibly hot it was.

Fifth course Khao todd, described on the menu as “crispy rice, mint, peanuts,” sounds tame, but it is a fiery beast. My conclusion here is that anything, even mint leaves and peanuts, can be made dangerously spicy with the addition of hot chilies.

Before we knew it, Paul and I scarfed our way through three containers of rice and two vegetable baskets. Despite the heat, I had to finish each and every bite of these two courses. They were simply too delicious.

Our server must have sensed our quiet suffering. In the middle of course five, she said to us, “Are you hanging in there? Don’t worry, I know exactly what you need.” She soon reappeared  holding a glass of white wine and an IPA, both of which she described as “perfect combatants to the heat.”

The next two courses were designed to extinguish the flames caused by the previous ones. Phat het fuk thong, thick juliennes of pumpkin mixed with basil had a subtle sweetness that was a welcomed relief from the spiciness.

Pictured above is the final course. Sii krong mu, pork ribs marinated with Mekhong (a Thai whiskey that tastes more like rum), amplified the sweetness introduced in the previous course. These little ribs were incredibly tender and best of all at this point, without a single hint of spice. Where the first course was mild and salty, this course was mild and sweet.

From start to finish, my experience at Little Serow had the makings of an exciting theatrical performance. Or even an action-packed film. In high school English class, I remember learning about Freitag’s Plot Pyramid (don’t ask me why it’s this that I remember). According to Freitag, a successful story follows this form.

Think about each course and where it fits into the pyramid. It works, right? The meal attracts the diner by starting off mild, but then the spice spreads like a wildfire across your palate. The last two dishes bring diners back to mild, but unlike the first dish, the diner has experienced the entire meal. The diner ends the meal with a feeling of completeness.

Who knows – maybe Johnny Monis paid attention in English class, too.

Photos: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/2012/09/eating_dc_dining_dispatches_fr.php?page=2, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plotmountain.jpg

Little Serow on Urbanspoon

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Thinly sliced roast pork, brocoli rabe and provolone cheese. Who knew that this combination could be so heavenly?

I remember the first time I tried the Pattison Avenue at Taylor Gourmet on 14th street. The bitterness of the rabe balanced the saltiness of the sliced pork. And the cheese, well, cheese is always delicious. The sub roll was actually a little bland, but effectively soaked up the excess pork juice from the meat.

I soon developed an obsession with the roast pork, brocoli rabe and provolone sandwich. Determined to find out the origins of this sandwich, I did my research. Casey Patten and Matt Mazza, two Philadelphia natives, opened Taylor Gourmet in 2008 because they wanted to bring the Philly hoagie culture to D.C.

In fact, all of their sandwiches are named after streets or notable landmarks in their home city. Taylor Gourmet’s sandwiches are made with roasted in-house meats, including turkey, ham, beef and pork.

Patten and Mazza have opened several locations in D.C., including the 14th Street location I visited, one on H Street, one on K Street and another in Bethesda. The modern, industrial design is used for all of their locations as well (thanks to NYTimes.com for the above photo). Although Taylor Gourmet is expensive for lunch, the sandwiches are thoughtfully made with quality ingredients.

So there’s Patten and Mazza. But that’s clearly not where the roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich started. What inspired these guys to create the Pattinson Avenue?

It turns out that this sandwich can be traced to a vendor located at Philly’s Reading Terminal Market called Tommy DiNic’s. (No, he’s not the only guy in the city who sells roast pork and broccoli rabe, but he’s definitely one of the most well-known.)

This large indoor market has a pretty interesting history. Reading Terminal Market opened in 1892 to house food vendors who had previously operated outdoors along streets in downtown Philly. Market Street, a main thoroughfare in the city, was one of the most popular spots for these vendors. Due to complaints of residents and sanitation concerns, the city decided to ban vendors from selling their products on the street.

With the new law in effect, Philly’s street vendors found themselves without a place to sell to their products. Reading Terminal Market was the perfect solution to this problem. With an enormous refrigeration system, vendors could produce and sell their food more efficiently than before.

Today, the market is filled with every type of vendor imaginable. There are bakers, farmers with fresh produce, dairy and cheese farmers from the Amish country, butchers, and more.

Tommy DiNic’s has been a mainstay in the market since 1954. Specializing in slow-roasted, sliced pork and roast beef sandwiches, DiNic’s represents the traditional Philly hoagie.

Knowing this, I knew what I had to do. So, I booked a seat on the MegaBus and bolted up to Philly for the day. My first stop -DiNic’s at Reading Terminal Market.

The market was a foodie’s dream, with every type of vendor you could possible imagine. I wrestled through the throngs of people and made my way to DiNic’s. I ordered my sandwich with confidence. “Roast pork broccoli rabe and provolone cheese, please.”

This sandwich felt like it weighed five pounds. I carefully unrolled its paper wrapping. Dear God. The sandwich was a foot long pork monster. I took a few photos and stared in awe for a few seconds.

My first bite – I tasted melted Provolone cheese smothered over juicy, tender and perfectly seasoned pork. This was some of the best roasted pork I have ever had. Taylor Gourmet, while good, didn’t hold a candle to this.

DiNic’s sandwich had personality. From the sharp melted Provolone to the succulent sliced pork to the spicy, bitter broccoli rabe, every flavor sang. Even the bread, a soft hoagie roll that perfectly contained the sandwich fillings, was unique. It’s amazing that I finished most of this sandwich without the mass of toppings falling out.

Because I didn’t want to carry the rest of the sandwich around Philly with me, I decided to pull an Adam Richman and take on the entire thing. Actually, Richman visited DiNic’s during the Philly episode of his eat-feat show, “Man Versus Food.” He ate the whole hoagie with ease, but then again, he’s had practice at this.

By the end, the cheese began to get to me. There was just so much of it, probably a little too much. In classic Richman style, I stuffed the remainder of the sandwich down my throat before my brain could tell my stomach, “STOP EATING FOR GOD’S SAKE!”

Success? Well, yes. But then I felt sick, but sick in an extremely satisfied way. I waddled around the rest of the market, buying a few Philly soft pretzels and chocolate chip cookies for later. Much later.

DiNic’s roast pork and rabe sandwich is one of a kind. Unfortunately, Philly isn’t in my backyard, so it will probably be some time before I go back. Then again, this isn’t such a bad thing, considering this sandwich could feed a family of four.  In the meantime, I’m glad to see places like Taylor Gourmet showing diners what the Philly hoagie is all about right here in the District.

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