Monday, August 14, 2017

Eating BIG in DC

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Eating up our nations capitol 

With you know who in office I wasn't sure I wanted to visit DC, a place I'd never been. I was told I couldn't go on our senior class trip due to the terror possibility I presented. But it's a place I knew I eventually had to see and just because the orange colored idiot is in office there doesn't mean he represents all the people of DC. I saw plenty of resistance as far as signs and such upon our arrival.

Washington DC

Of course as you all know I travel for food first and foremost but I also appreciate stuff like the great outdoors or in the case of a hot ass weekend in DC the air conditioned museums. I'll be honest I know Chicago is known as the museum capitol and such but DC has it all. Including it's newest attraction the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture. Which opened in 2016.

Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture

We were lucky enough to get two tickets which are available on the day you plan to visit at 6am online. All of DC's museums are free which to me is amazing because this is a museum I would happily pay $20 to browse. It covered everything from slavery to sports. Stuff that was sad and also that which was wonderful. Words cant really describe all the stuff on display and knowledge that's available for your learning. It's something you have to visit for yourself to experience how cool it is.

Sights from the African-American Museum of History and Culture

Seeing as how it was July 4th weekend the museums were pretty busy. Ones like the air and aviation museum had a line that makes that at Franklin's Barbecue seem short. But then places like the National Museum of the American Indian could be walked right into. That's another one I'd recommend. I'd heard the restaurant making old American Indian recipes was great but that wasn't until after I visited. All of the museums are the type of spots that can be visited multiple times.

National Museum of the American Indian

Another one I'd recommend is the National Museum of American History. it had all sorts of fun exhibits and in many cases there was lots of stuff relating to Chicago. A current exhibit that most readers of this site would enjoy is the history of food in America dating back to the early 1950's. They had all sorts of fun stuff on display including the worlds first frozen margarita machine from Dallas and Julia Child's kitchen from Cambridge MA. I even saw mention of a few places I'd been.

Sights from the 'Food' exhibit at the National Museum of American History

Thip Khao

Our first stop after the African-American museum was a place long on my list. When Thip Khao opened a few years ago it did so to some national acclaim. I remember reading about this Laotian restaurant in of the major food publications and saying to myself I wold check it out if ever in DC. Lunch was the perfect time to do so as they're open for it whereas many of D.C's other spots are not. The country of Laos sits right above Thailand and thus the cuisines are similar but they aren't the same. Not pictured but every meal in Laos is served with sticky rice. It's the heart of Laos food.

Naem Khao at Thip Khao

Pretty much every table in an almost packed house had an order of the Naem Khao at their tables. Looked to good to not try so we started with an order of that off the salad portion of the menu. It was fantastic. All the flavors one hopes for in SE Asian cooking with none of them being dumbed down. Made with crispy coconut rice, sour pork, peanut, lime, scallion, mint, cilantro this was an amazing flavor combination. For our entree we both agreed that the Paa Tod sounded delicious. This dish takes catfish and fry's it up really nicely before it gets topped with a spicy mango sauce mixed with red onion, tomato, cashews, and mint. Now normally I'm not big on fruit mixed with meat but in this case it was so subtle while being sincerely spicy it was too good not to enjoy. The hip and sleek dining room paired with the wonderful people working here made this a meal worth returning for.

Paa Tod at Thip Khao

Bad Saint

Speaking of DC restaurants with national acclaim. Here's another I read about when it was nominated for 2016's Best New Restaurant (USA) by Bon Appetit. That and other praise thrown upon Bad Saint has made it one of the city's most popular restaurants. One little problem, it's small, like really small. There's guaranteed to be a wait and the process is kind of annoying. But eventually you put your name down and they text you when your table is ready. You're given 10 minutes to get back. We made it and were sat at the wall in the back. It was hot as hell this weekend and the restaurant was no different. With the menu changing daily it's pretty small and to the point where we went ahead and ordered right away as our seats were cramped and the heat was real. Our plates started arriving.

Inahaw Na Liempo (pork belly cucumber, champagne vinegar)

Bad Saint is one of the leaders in the current Filipino food movement. When this place started getting national recognition so did Filipino food. The cuisine of the Philippines is often described as Asian Soul food and a starter of Inahaw Na Liempo had all sorts of funk and flavor. This was described on the Carne (meat) part of the menu as having pork belly, cucumber, and champagne vinegar but you know there was much more going on that just that. After one plate we knew why this cuisine is big.

Inihaw Na Sugpo (prawns, crab fat, habanero) at Bad Saint

The most drool worthy dish on the menu were these fat prawns seen up above. Crab fat just sounds like something that would be good on everything. Including these big boys. My only complaint with this dish was the prawn meat itself was a bit tough but usually thats the case the bigger they are.

Kilawin Na Tambakol (tuna, ginger, habanero vinaigrette)

We had to get something off the fish section of the menu and a dish called Kilawin Na Tambakol sounded right up our alley. What came out was something entirely different than what I had pictured. Lightly cooked tuna was bathing in a spicy sauce while some sort of fruit or vegetable was providing plenty of crunch. A complimentary banana bathed in syrup was the end to an eye opening meal that provided plenty of flavors we aren't all that familiar with. In the end we ended up in line for about 30 minutes and then waited about 45 minutes after that for our text to arrive. Seeing as how you can do whatever during that time (drinks) it didn't seem all that bad. I say go for it if thinking about doing it.

Dessert at Bad Saint

Keren Restaurant

One of the things I was most looking forward to exploring is DC's wonderful African cuisine. To be more precise the cuisine of Ethiopia as DC has more Ethiopians than anywhere outside Addis Abada. Keren Restaurant is actually an Eritrean dining option. They serve the food of Eritrea which borders Ethiopia to the North. This place looked and sounded great and the large amount of locals inside upon arrival assured it would not be a letdown. Lots of reviews mention breakfast and one dish caught my eye. I ordered my bowl of Ful and received it shortly thereafter. This vegetarian breakfast dish is popular not only in Eritrea but also Ethiopia, Sudan, and the rest of the Horn of Africa. It's base is heavily seasoned smashed fava beans and layered on top of that is scrambled eggs, tomato, diced pepper/onion, and a cottage cheese like substance. This might be an East African dish but it tasted like something out of Texas. Cumin was heavily present as were other chile flavors. Awesome.

Ful at Keren Restaurant

Le Diplomate

During my research of where to eat many people pointed to Le Diplomate. The award winning restaurant is said to be one of the country's most authentic French dining experiences. I wasn't the only one who took interest. Upon entry into the ginormous restaurant we were greeted to a packed house. We were also greeted by the bread case which was loaded with housemade options.

Daily Bread Selection

It was a Sunday afternoon so brunch was on the menu. Lots of options with most of them tempting but having just come from Lyon we knew what we wanted to start with. The Lyonnaise salad was a staple of our meals in Lyon and we loved all the ones we tried so this seemed like a good dish to gauge Le Diplomate on. Verdict? Just ok. There was maybe four or five lardons. Not the Lyon way.

Lyonnaise Salad at Le Diplomate

While it seemed like every other table was ordering a burger I was focused in on the Duck Sarladaise. Described on the menu as including duck confit, roasted potatoes and a sunny side up egg we ordered it hoping to get taken back to some amazing plates of duck confit we had recently ate while in Paris. Unfortunately this dish had the same problem as the salad. There was maybe 5 pieces of confit mixed in and they were so small they were barely chewable. Everything else was good but the confit was more like a spice than an actual ingredient used. Le Diplomate knocked it out of the park as far as atmosphere goes but the food wasn't quite as good as we hoped. Maybe we ordered wrong.

Duck Sarladaise at Le Diplomate

Cotton & Reed

Next I have a great 1-2 punch when it comes to food and drink. Like most distilleries around the country Cotton & Reed sits in an old industrial part of town. The focus here is rum. They make a white rum, spiced rum, and dram. All of which are available in cocktails at the bright and airy bar up front. This was my favorite DC drinking destination we visited. On a hot and humid weekend the housemade frozen drinks from here were just perfect. The bartender was extremely knowledgeable about the product. The dram which is a liquor that created by West Indies slaves was fantastic.

Union Market

Right around the corner from C&R is the hip Union Market. It's D.C's premiere food hall. The space boasts over 40 local vendors with most all of them being unique to the market. There's a couple spots that stood out to me as far as what to try when I was browsing through the list of vendors.

Toli Moli

Toli Moli was the one I knew I would check out. This is a mother-daughter run falooda stand. Falooda? "Falooda is a layered dessert drink and popular street snack found in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and throughout the world." This family operation is bringing Burmese style faloodas to the masses in DC and as I sipped on my "royal" offering I couldn't help but think how long until these wonderful drinks are a national trend. Refreshing flavors of ginger, basil, and pomegranate mixed with all sorts of textures from different syrups and jellies. All of them made on site. Great little place.

DC Dosa

The other spot that's worth your time and stomach space is DC Dosa. They specialize in South Indian style dosas. These can be described as pancakes or crepes but for the most are hearty rather than sweet. They're also typically vegetarian and topped with fillings like lentils and curried vegetables and such. Good stuff. If in the mood for some fresh bivalves they have an oyster bar called Rappahannock Oyster Bar. This is a good spot to sample the local Chesapeake Bay seafood.

Sampler Platter (oysters and clams) at Rappahannock Oyster Bar

The Dabney

Before I sing the praises of The Dabney let me just say I owe this one to the wife. For whatever reason this beloved DC restaurant never made it onto my radar. Luckily it was on hers. The Dabney is known for their exclusive use of a wood burning hearth. That paired with local ingredients make it one of the nations capitol's most sought after seats. The wood-fire pit sits in the big open air kitchen.

a peek inside

We were able to snag two seats at the bar by showing up at opening time. Before I go lusting over our food I must mention our bartender Brad. He was one of the nicest service industry people that I've ever come across. Not only could he mix some mean drinks but he was also just an all around personable guy who went out of his way to make sure we had a good time not just there but also at the other spots we were headed to after the Dabney. He made sure we ate well while in town. I would not have ordered this hearth roasted vegetable dish without Brad's big endorsement and had I not had this I would've missed out on one of the most fantastic vegetable dishes I can ever remember. It was a collection of what was in season early July and all of it was kissed with the perfect amount of fire.

Hearth Roasted Vegetables at The Dabney

I knew I was getting crab anytime I saw it on a menu and Dabney had a dish pairing local blue crab with grilled cauliflower. There was a creamy sauce that might've been mayo based and it tasted great making it taste like a more complex crab cake. A candidate for one of the best dishes this trip.

Maryland Blue Crab and Cauliflower - brown butter, nigella, wild arugula

Tiger Fork

While investigating DC's dining scene they seem to have some really good Asian choices stretching from Vietnamese to the food of Hong Kong like that at Tiger Fork. Just around the corner from The Dabney this is another one of DC's eater type scene spots that had a big time design team. The menu features favorites from Hong Kong such as cheung fun and dan dan noodles. I was there for the latter and they were delicious. Loved the texture of the cold noodles that were sitting atop a steaming pile of hot pork meat. I was a bit full so I didn't get to enjoy this dish as much as might have if it was our first stop. I would have liked to try some other offerings as this place gets praise from local critics.

Dan Dan Noodles at Tiger Fork

Tail Up Goat

When I'm visiting another city and am looking for places to eat there's two things I'm looking for. One is the locally loved mom and pop spots and the other is the hip and happening chef driven restaurants recognized by sites like Eater. Tail Up Goat has also been recognized by Michelin as a one star restaurant. All of the recognition is nice and all but if the menu doesn't speak to me I'm not going to go. Well the menu from here was full of things I wanted to try. I had wanted the lamb ribs they're known for but she wanted to go in a different direction and the rib plate is a huge portion that feeds two people so I didn't feel like attacking it myself as this was our third stop of the evening. Thus a starter of Pasta Primavera with trout roe, garlic scrapes, squash, aleppo breadcrumbs to start.

Pasta Primavera at Tail Up Goat 

Man that pasta dish is still something I think about. When winter comes I'll be thinking of it the same way I do a warm summer day. It was a perfect summertime pasta. For our entree the whole stuffed porgy fish was the obvious choice, other than the lamb ribs. I'm not sure I ever had this local fish but it's affordable and sustainable, and has a sweet, mild taste and the skin gets nice and crispy when cooked right. Tail Up Goat stuffed this sucker with some bomba rice and sat it atop a puddle of acqua pazza which is an italian term for the broth used to poach the fish. There was also some heat elements with fermented red chiles added onto the plate. The price of this dish seemed low.

Whole Stuffed Porgy at Tail Up Goat 

I'm not a big dessert guy but summertime is the exception. There's so much wonderful fruit and it's always so refreshing. As I've said already it was a hot and muggy weekend and this house made blood orange sorbet was the perfect way to combat it. Two thumbs up for Tail Up Goat.

Blood Orange Sorbet at Tail Up Goat

Maine Avenue Fish Market

We had plans to visit Baltimore for the day but the car rental shops made it to expensive. None of them were open on the 4th except the airport and they were price gauging because of it. It actually worked out just fine and while I didn't get to try a pit beef (one day) we still got to indulge in the local bounty of blue crab. We would do this with a visit to the Maine Avenue Fish Market where they have about 6-7 seafood vendors selling all sorts of seafood. The main draw being the aforementioned Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs. There were lots of people picking up stuff for their holiday bashes and that's got to be a pretty dope thing to do. Throw a crab bash in your yard in the middle of summer.

Sights from Maine Avenue Fish Market

We didn't have a yard to boil in, or any friends to invite over. So we had the good folks at Captain White's set us up for a picnic. You tell them what you want as in male or female and which sizes and they throw the live crabs in a bag that you bring over to the HBIC (head boiler in charge). He takes it from you and gives you a ticket and a time. We waited about 25 minutes for our dozen plus crabs to be ready. I got half and half and of course had the guy add on some Old Bay. You can buy a wooden crab cracker for $1 and bring your bounty to the dining dock on the water which is available to Captain White customers only. Prepare to get messy. And on this day sweaty. But it was worth it.

a peek inside our bag of crabs

The Aftermath

Rose's Luxury

It's only August but it will be hard for any place else to knock Rose's Luxury out of the #1 spot for best meal of 2017. This one was the wifey's call and like they always say, it was the right call. I wasn't sure about the fact people start lining up for this place an hour or more before it opens but by the time our meal was done I would've gone back in line and waited another hour or two until I was hungry again for more. We ended up arriving around 4:30p and the line was 40 deep. But since we were willing to sit outside we got a table right around 5:15p after some cocktails in the bar upstairs.

Cocktail at Rose's Luxury 

As good as the food was the drinks were equally refreshing and the service was outstanding. Special shout-out to Kristen who made the meal memorable from a service standpoint. She was one of the friendliest people we've ever come across and Rose's needs to make sure she's there for a long, long time. The type of person that can make a meal of dog food enjoyable. But she wasn't serving no damn dog food. This was the stuff of excellence. A starter of some challah bread was remarkable.

Complimentary Challah Bread at Rose's Luxury 

Moving on we (me and she) have had a special lust for artichokes since stuffing ourselves on them at a local mom and pop spot in Barcelona. We get them whenever we see them on a menu. Rose's had this wonderful little finger food starter made of an artichoke leaf holding barigoule and trout roe. This was a one bite (or scrape) dish of the popular Provençal dish of braised artichokes in a warm and slightly tangy white-wine broth. I swear I could've sat there all night and ate these until I exploded.

Artichoke Leaf / with barigoule and trout roe at Rose's Luxury

Next plate up was their signature dish. I've thought about this more than one should. Described on the menu as a lychee salad this was probably the best thing I ate on this trip. It's a salad in the Southeast Asian sense but of course it has all sorts of chef driven characteristics to it. Like who figured out that crumbled pork sausage, habenero, peanuts and a whipped cream like concoction worked so well together? This is the type of signature dish that can set you up for life. So it's always on menu.

 Lychee Salad / with pork sausage, habanero, peanuts at Rose's Luxury 

The hits keep on coming with this carrot pastrami dish. We saw the table next to us order it again, twice. It had all the tastes of a great plate of pastrami with no meat involved whatsoever. Just charred carrots sitting atop a mustard-y sauce with sauerkraut and dill resting on top. Holy sh!t it was good.

 Carrots "Pastrami" / with smoked butter, rye, sauerkraut

They had three selections of pasta on the menu and our wonderful waitress recommended we start with a maccheroni all'amatriciana made with smoked pecorino. It was flawless. You catching this pattern here? As if all that wasn't good enough Kristen then sent out another off menu pasta dish that I cant even remember because everything else was so good it was lost in a haze of happiness.

 Maccheroni All'amatriciana/ with smoked pecorino at Rose's Luxury

 Compliments of the Chef at Rose's Luxury

You cant not have dessert when everything leading up to it has been perfection. But which one do you try when you know that all of the options are worth the calories consumed? While we opted for the housemade coconut ice cream served with burnt coconut on top we were going back and forth between it and this tecate soaked pear dish. I dont know what we did to win over our waitress but she brought out both since we had trouble deciding between the two. A must visit when in DC.

 Coconut Milk Ice Cream / with burnt coconut, lime, kiwi at Rose's Luxury

 Tecate Poached Pears / with smoked mascarpone, walnut brown butter crumble, chamomile granita

 Complimentary Snacks (Go Cubbies) at Rose's Luxury

Copycat Co.

We were able to visit a few of DC's favorite spots for cocktails and Copycat Co. was one of them. This was a no-brainer seeing as though she loves cocktails and I love dumplings and those are what Copycat Co. does. Dumplings are downstairs and drinks are upstairs. You can do both or either or. Both of them were legit. Then bartender was chill and despite the place being packed he still found time to chat and mix up some off menu items. As far as the dumplings go they too were good especially paired with some booze. I got an order of the pork and shrimp and devoured them all.

Dumplings at Copycat Co.

Beef 'N Bread

On the morning of July 4th I decided to check out DC's Chinatown. I figured most businesses there would be open and they were. However like most all other Chinatowns across the country, DC's seems to be shrinking. There was still plenty of old school Chinese restaurants but there was plenty of non-Chinese restaurants. Places like Beef 'N Bread. I love a good roast beef style sandwich. Boston has some really good ones and this place is supposed to mimic them. House roasted beef is cooked medium rare and then sliced thin before going in a house baked roll. In Boston they like theirs with bbq sauce and some tiger sauce which is a horseradish type concoction. Good sandwich.

Roast Beef Sandwich from Beef 'N Bread


Whenever I'm headed elsewhere theres two things I'm guaranteed to look up. Mexican and Japanese food. DC's Mexican scene seemed pretty weak but the Japanese spots looked legit. Donburi is a hip little shop specializing in donburi aka rice bowls. Donburi can be pretty much anything as long as there's a bowl of rice to start. Plenty of popular donburi options at this place but the BBQ eel bowl is said to be a must. No doubt about it. This was all sorts of satisfying. Makes me wish I was a native.

Unagi (BBQ eel) Donburi at Donburi

Chercher Ethiopian Restaurant

The Ethiopian scene in DC needs a lot more than a couple days to uncover it's gems. As I already mentioned DC is basically the best place to eat Ethiopian cuisine outside of Ethiopia. The options seem endless. I had no idea where to start but this semi upscale joint seemed a good place to do so. Full house (on July 4) when I arrived but there were seats at the bar. The place smelled great. All pf the options seemed worth ordering but it was just me and I wasn't even that hungry. nonetheless a plate of tibs was a good way to introduce myself to the cuisine. Tibs is Ethiopias version of stir fry. It can be lamb or beef and it's usually sautéed with vegetables and Ethiopian spices mixed in. Chercher's beef was outstanding and the tibs were enlightening in that I will seek out Ethiopian cuisine when on the road from here on in. Though no other place will have options like DC does.

Beef Tibs at Chercher Restaurant

Ben's Chili Bowl

What's a trip to DC without a stop at the city's most iconic eatery? Ben's Chili Bowl. I've known about this place as long as I've been watching football. You know they show it on every nationally televised game being played at FedEx Field. This was the one spot I knew I wasn't missing. I walked over one night around 11p and it was filled with folks taking stuff to go but the seats at the counter were empty. Ben's got it's start in 1958. In a city with many landmarks this is one of the most well known. It's African-American owned and the local African-American community, as well as everyone else, has a soft spot for a half smoke after drinks before bed. They have other stuff on the menu but to not get a half smoke would be like going to Portillo's and not getting a hot dog. I thought they were worthy of the excitement people give it. The sausage (called half smoke) was nice and snappy and the chili was one of those blends thats works great over a link. Add me to it's many fans. Peace out DC.

Half Smoke at Ben's Chili Bowl

Note: Please use google for all restaurant addresses and up to date information. You're also free to use my google maps DC dining guide featuring the locations of all of today's stops as well as places I didn't make it to that were on my radar. Click HERE to see this map. See ya next time at S'C'&C.


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