Monthly Archives: December 2009

Merry Christmas to all…

The White House Christmas Tree

Ice skating at the National Gallery

Mushroom crostini

Raspberry tart

Christmas Eve sunset in LA

…And to all a good night.

LA Edition: A Tam Good Christmas

The Tam

Since I arrived home to LA, I’ve been a bit of a Scrooge. Even though I had ample time to prepare for the holidays, they still snuck up on me all of a sudden. Plus, I was sad to miss last weekend’s massive snowstorm! I would have loved to build a snowman or pelt people in the Snowpacalypse Guerilla Snowball Fight on U St. I called my DC friends for updates and watched news reports on the storm longingly from LA, where it was a warm and sunny 70 degrees. Despite being a California native and spending every Christmas in palm tree-laden LA, I felt like I was missing out on a real White Christmas.

I was in dire need of some Christmas spirit and, luckily for me, it came in the form of dinner at the Tam O’ Shanter. Lovingly know by locals as “the Tam,” this LA institution has been serving up prime rib for over 80 years. The Tam is the oldest restaurant in LA to operated by the same family in the same location–which means, the food and the service is deliciously tried and true.

The Tam's festive entryway

Over the holidays, the Tam O’Shanter transforms itself into a bastion of holiday cheer. Fully trimmed Christmas trees and bouquets of poinsettias adorn every room, a roaring fire greets visitors in the front, and (my favorite part) carolers mill through the dining rooms, taking requests for holiday songs from each and every table. (We requested “Feliz Navidad” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” this year!) Needless to say, the Tam is the premiere place for family gatherings over the holidays, so I suggest you get your reservation in early.

The carolers in full holiday regalia!

My family goes to the Tam every year for the holidays with our close friend, and every year, the food and service is excellent. This year was no exception. I ordered the cream of mushroom soup and braised beef short ribs with mashed potatoes and creamed corn.

Braised beef short ribs: tender to the bone

The soup was rich and creamy, with a nice earthiness added by the mushrooms. The short ribs were so tender they fell apart with the slightest touch of my fork, and paired well with the buttery mashed potatoes and sweet creamed corn.

Other dishes of note included the juicy California cut of prime rib (a smaller cut) served with Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, and creamed corn and a lighter Mahi Mahi dish. For dessert, make sure to order one of their signature souffles. The souffle flavors that night were peach and chocolate, and of course, we ordered both. They were simply TO DIE FOR: light as air, full of flavor, served hot with a huge dollop of freshly whipped cream. The souffles take 45 min. to prepare, so make sure to order them ahead of time.   (Sorry no photo is available–the waitress cut and served the souffles before I had time to take one! But trust me: it was heavenly.)

I left the Tam full of red meat and Christmas cheer. Though prices at the Tam are not the cheapest (entrees cost between $18-30), I think the splurge is definitely worth it. The ingredients are high quality, service is top notch, and plus, how can you resist being serenaded tableside by carolers?! For a festive holiday experience that is as close to a white Christmas as LA can get, hurry over to the Tam O’Shanter before the end of the holiday season!

The Tam's infamous prime rib

The Tam O’Shanter Inn

2980 Los Feliz Boulevard (across from Best Buy/Costco)
Los Angeles, California 90039
(323) 664-0228

Tam O'Shanter Inn on Urbanspoon

Eatonville: Eat Your Heart Out

Entrance to Eatonville

I went to Eatonville with low expectations. A friend who had already tried Eatonville described it as “Disneyland-esque dining”–just substitute Zora Neale Hurston for Mickey Mouse. Other reviewers found the food disappointing and impersonal. Despite the mixed reviews, I was still curious about Eatonville. I am a longtime fan of Eatonville’s owner, Andy Shallal, who started the popular Busboys and Poets right across the street. Plus, I’d never eaten at a literary themed restaurant before. So on a cold wintery Friday night, I decided to venture out to U St. and give Eatonville a try.

View of Eatonville's main dining room

Eating at Eatonville was probably the best decision I’ve made in a long time. Once inside the restaurant’s whimsical dining room, I felt as if I had been transported somewhere else. Maybe not Eatonville, FL (the town where famed author Zora Neale Hurston grew up and where the restaurant gets its name), but definitely away from all the hustle and bustle outside. Eatonville’s walls are covered with bright and funky murals, which stretch from the floor all the way to its high ceilings. Old-fashioned crystal chandeliers add to the dramatic effect. Other details, such as the worn wooden fences surrounding some tables and the drinks served in mason jars, make the Zora Neale Hurston theme fun and whimsical rather than gimmicky.

Southern feast (**the beers come in mason jars, which can be seen in the background--so cute!)

My date and I decided to eat at the bar upstairs, as there was over an hour and a half wait for a table. The bar ended up being just great–it serves the exact same menu as downstairs, has comfortable tables and chairs to dine on, and features live jazz on most nights. The menu was very reasonably priced, with only one entree costing over $20. We ordered the gumbo ($8), mac and cheese ($5), sweet potato and andouille sausage hash ($5), pecan crusted trout ($16), and corn muffins ($2). Needless to say, we ordered a LOT of food.

And we ate nearly all of it–the food was that good. The gumbo was intensely smoky and subtly spicy, spiked with crab meat, shrimp, and andouille sausage. For me, the dish was a bit too rich and I could only eat about half, but then again, I don’t consider myself a gumbo connoseiur. The mac and cheese, on the other hand, was heavenly right down to the last bite. Creamy and comforting with loads of melted cheddar cheese, it was the perfect antidote to a cold winter night. The pecan crusted trout was well cooked and the pecans really complemented the flavor of the fish. While the sweet potato and andouille sausage hash was just ok, the corn muffins–priced at only $2–were phenomenal. Buttery and sweet, just like they make it in the South (according to the Southern gentleman I was with).

By the end of our meal, we were too full to even think of getting dessert, but we will definitely come back to try the oatmeal pecan pie and apple crisp. Service was welcoming and helpful, though spotty at times when the bar got busy (our waiter was also one of the bartenders). Nevertheless, I think Eatonville is a welcome addition to the U St. corridor. The owner, Andy Shallal, has outdone himself once again.


2121 14th St. NW

Washington, DC 20009

(202) 332-ZORA

Eatonville on Urbanspoon

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

(Photo courtesy of

It’s the hap-happiest season of all–and I’m not talking about Christmas. Every winter for one week only, Washington restaurants participate in Winter Restaurant Week, offering 3-course prix fixe menus for $20.10 at lunch and $35.10 at dinner. This year’s event will take place Jan. 11-17, 2010 and reservations are already filling up fast.  For a full list of participating restaurants, click here.

My advice for diners on a budget who are looking to get the best value: If you have the time, go for lunch, because most restaurants serve the same menu for lunch and dinner. Save the tapas restaurants (Jaleo, La Tasca) for another time–you probably won’t spend $35.10 each on tapas anyway. Conversely, if there is a fancy and expensive restaurant you have been dying to try, Winter Restaurant Week is the perfect time to make a reservation.

I’ve already made a reservation at Art and Soul and am SO excited! I’m still trying to decide on one more place…any suggestions from readers??

Jaleo Hour? I’m there!

Bacon wrapped dates at Jaleo Hour

Jaleo’s bacon wrapped dates may not have photographed well, but believe me, they sure tasted heavenly. And for $4 during Jaleo Hour, they were definitely worth both the wait and the price.

Jaleo Hour takes place Sunday-Friday from 4:30-7:00pm and features $4 tapas, drink specials, sangria, and draft beer. Normally, Jaleo’s tapas are a bit pricey at $6-12 each, which makes a visit to Jaleo Hour a total steal. My boyfriend and I snacked on garlicky gambas al ajillo (shrimp sauteed in with garlic and guindilla pepper), the aforementioned bacon wrapped dates, and the crusty complimentary bread and olive oil. I also had a glass of  Tempranillo & Garnacha for a mere $4 (wines are half-price), which was an excellent pairing to the tapas. In total, we spent only $12 on our Jose Andres tapas excursion.

The only drawback (or for some, it might be a plus) was the crowd. At 5:45 on a Friday night, we could barely squeeze into the bar and were lucky to even find a seat. I recommend going early if you have a big group or want to be guaranteed a seat. Despite the crowd, it’s still a fun happy hour and I’m certainly not going to complain–especially with a plate of those bacon wrapped dates in front of me. 🙂

Jaleo (3 locations)

1. Downtown: 480 7th St. NW Washington, DC 20004 (202) 628-7949

2. Bethesda: 7271 Woodmont Ave. Bethesda, MD 20814 (301) 913-0003

3. Crystal City: 2250 A Crystal Dr. Arlington, VA 22202 (703) 413-8181

Exploring the Hill

The Capitol

Since moving to DC in August, the past few months have been filled with job interviews, law school apps, and all the other anxieties that come along with unemployment. But now that I have an internship lined up for January and all my law school apps sent in, I’m playing the waiting game and have a LOT of free time on my hands. My family and friends keep telling me to enjoy the free time while I still have it, do all the things I won’t have time to do when I start working, and most importantly, to stop complaining to them because they are jealous of all my free time!

Entrance to Mangialardo and Sons--looks can be deceiving

I finally followed their advice this past Wednesday–and couldn’t be happier that I did. I had read a lot about a small, hole-in-the-wall Italian sub shop popular with the Capitol Hill lunch crowd. With nothing to do that day, I decided to check it out and explore the Hill.

Mangialardo and Sons is located on Capitol Hill SE, just off the Potomac Ave. metro stop. The area reminds me a bit of Columbia Heights, in the sense that it’sgradually being redeveloped, but there are still some parts that feel a bit seedy. Case in point: when you walk out of the Potomac Ave. stop, there is a brand new, sparkling clean Harris Teeter  on the bottom floor of a huge apartment unit across the street. Walk a few blocks in the opposite direction, however, and the area quickly goes down hill (both literally and figuratively). Luckily, Mangialardo and Sons is near the Harris Teeter, but that doesn’t mean the location is perfect. The front window of the shop had been smashed in when I visited, and a wood board and some duct tape haphazardly held it together. (The owner joked that it was probably a bitter family member or customer desperate for salami who broke the window.)

Despite the shabby storefront, Mangialardo’s was crowded with Hill staffers picking up sandwiches for their offices when I walked in. The store’s interior is sparse but clean, with shelves along the walls stocked with jars of roasted red peppers and bottles of imported Italian olive oil. Service is efficient and friendly, especially to newcomers. The menu, above the service counter, includes hot and cold sandwiches, and a special of spaghetti and meatballs. There are also coolers filled with sodas and a nice selection of bottled teas.

The G-man

I ordered the G-man on a soft roll with everything on it (which received positive reviews on Yelp) and walked over to Harris Teeter to eat my sandwich (Mangialardos is cash and carry-out only). For only $6, the G-man is a great value for the money. The sub is huge, more than twice the size of Potbelly. The roll was soft and chewy, but substantial enough to hold together the sandwich. Fillings included ham, bologna, pepperoni, salami, mortadella, provolone cheese, mayo, Italian seasoning, hot peppers, oil/vinegar, and lettuce and tomato.

I am by no means a connoisseur of Italian subs, so perhaps I could not fully appreciate the G-man in all its glory. Yes, the ingredients were fresh and high-quality. Yes, it was very authentic. And yes, it was a pretty darn good and filling mean for only 6 bucks. But, I found the sub to be a bit too salty for my taste. After taking out the pepperoni, mortadella, and some of the cheese, however, I thought it tasted much better. Although I did find myself drinking a ton of water the rest of the day. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for an authentic Italian sub or just a change of pace from Subway, I would still wholeheartedly recommend Mangialardo and Sons.

Foodies' mecca aka Hill's Kitchen

Afterward, I wandered around the Hill and stumbled upon the cutest culinary shop, Hill’s Kitchen. I stocked up on stocking stuffers for the holidays: an eggplant shaped spoon rest, Capitol-shaped cookie cutters, and cute penguin napkins. Then I somehow ended up in Chinatown (not sure how…) and went to the Downtown Holiday Market for even more holiday shopping. Lots of handmade jewelry, beautiful photos, and cute clothes all from local vendors. There was also live jazz outside the Portrait Gallery and really yummy, fresh-out-of-the-fryer donuts. All in all, it was a wonderful day to be unemployed.

Jazz outside the Portrait Gallery

Mangialardo and Sons

1317 Pennsylvania Ave. SE

Washington, DC 20003

(202) 543-6212

Open weekdays 7:30a-3:00p

Mangialardo & Sons on Urbanspoon

Hill’s Kitchen

713 D St. SE (across from the Eastern Market metro)

Washington, DC 20003

(202) 543-1997

Downtown Holiday Market

F St. between 7th and 8th St. (near the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro)

Open Dec. 4-23, Noon-8pm daily

Downtown Holiday Market

Dim Sum (and then some) Happy Hour

Ping Pong Dim Sum opened on Saturday (12/12) in Chinatown and from the looks and tastes of things, it’s off to a great start (review will be posted shortly!). If you want to sample Ping Pong’s delectable dim sum at a discounted price, stop in on Tuesday 12/15 between 6-10pm for lots and LOTS of specials. These include: $5 Ping Pong specialty martinis, $4 beer, and $3 baked puffs, char siu buns, prawn balls, spring rolls, and more. See Ping Pong’s Twitter for more details.

Ping Pong Dim Sum

900 7th St. NW (behind PS7’s)

Washington, DC 20001

(202) 506-3740

Cloudy with a Chance of (Chicken) Meatballs

Spaghetti with chicken meatballs and simple marinara sauce

Many followers of this blog may be under 2 false impressions after reading my previous posts: 1. that I don’t cook, 2. that I only eat out in Dupont Circle (the tag cloud on the right, unfortunately, does not help my case). The next couple posts will hopefully dispel both notions.

I had a serious case of the Mondays this past (yup…you guessed it) Monday, so I decided to whip up some comfort food to cheer myself up. After browsing some of my favorite food blogs, I came across a recipe on Smitten Kitchen for baked chicken meatballs, which sounded absolutely delicious and (semi) healthy! I headed to Safeway with my grocery list in hand, already hungry for a steaming bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

Chicken meatballs (before baking)

The recipe calls for pancetta, Italian bread (I used ciabatta), and ground chicken–ingredients which only seem more expensive than they really are. I certainly thought about replacing the pancetta and ciabatta with normal bacon and whole wheat bread, but reviewers of the recipe warned again and again that substitutions would sacrifice flavor. So I paid the extra $3 for pancetta and ciabatta. Was it worth it? YOU BET.

The meatballs were moist, tender, and very flavorful–more flavorful than most other meatballs I’ve had. As Deb from Smitten Kitchen writes, they do taste faintly of cheese. Which, I’m not going to lie, freaked me out at first (b/c there is no cheese!). I think the meatballs actually taste better the longer they sit, as the flavors really blend together and absorb into the chicken.

Deglazing the onions and tomatoes for the marinara sauce

I served the meatballs with one of my favorite tomato sauces–the Barefoot Contessa’s marinara sauce. The sauce is elegant and simple, with only a few ingredients that really showcase the sweetness of the tomatoes. Red wine (I used a California Pinot Noir which I had left over) adds warmth and depth of flavor while the parsley (the only herb in the entire recipe!) adds just the right amount of zest. In short, I LOVE THIS SAUCE (and Barefoot Contessa, but I’ll save that for another time). The simple flavors of the sauce complemented the richness of the meatballs perfectly.

In addition to how delicious it tasted, this gourmet meal only cost $16 total to make. Plus, I have enough leftovers to last me the entire week (I even froze some meatballs for later). That means, it cost about a mere $4/serving! Now, that’s what I call cheap eating.


For recipes, click on the bold links in the above post.

Pho-get about the weather

View of the snow from inside Saigon Bistro

I woke up this morning to find a pleasant surprise outside my window: the first snow of the season! I was so excited to run outside and build a snowman, but then I realized it was only 8:30 in the morning (which, on a weekend, is early for me). So I crawled back into bed and decided to wait until the afternoon, dreaming of the winter wonderland that would be waiting for me.

Silly me. By the time I woke up again, it was 2:30p! I hurriedly put on my coat and dragged my boyfriend outside with me. But, alas, the beautiful white snowflakes that greeted me earlier this morning had turned into brown slush. It was cold, grey, rainy, and just plain dreary outside! And to add insult to injury, we were both FAMISHED. (Sorry for sounding like a negative Nancy, but I was really disappointed!)

Dining room at Saigon Bistro

Cold weather always makes me crave noodle soups (must be the Asian in me) and luckily, Saigon Bistro was there to save the day. This sleek Vietnamese eatery opened fairly recently and took over the space that used to house the Fractured Prune and Aioli. With the lack of decent pho restaurants in the District, I’m truly grateful for Saigon Bistro’s arrival.

My boyfriend and I both ordered small beef noodle soups, or pho. Our soups arrived fairly quickly and piping hot, along with the usual condiments of bean sprouts, basil, jalepenos, and lime wedges. The noodles were just the right amount of chewy and served with generous portions of well done brisket and rare beef. The broth tasted light and fresh, though lacking the strong anise flavor that I love in Pho 75‘s. Despite this, it was still a respectable bowl of pho and certainly satisfied my craving.

Small beef noodle soup #3

At $7.99 for a small pho, Saigon Bistro is a bit more expensive than Pho 75. But, hey, I think the extra $3 is worth it, especially for not having to trek all the way out to Rosslyn or Falls Church for decent pho on a cold winter day. Saigon Bistro’s menu offers more variety, too. I will definitely be back to try the rice dishes (which are skewers of chicken, shrimp, or beef served with rice, salad, and fish sauce) and clay pot dishes (if these are similar to Hong Kong style bao zai fan, I’ll be so happy). Nothing on the menu exceeds $15 and portions are generous.

After slurping down the last of my pho, I felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to head back out into the cold. I forgot all about my earlier grumpiness and left Saigon Bistro with a full belly and a smile on my face.

Saigon Bistro

2153 P St. NW (near the corner of P & 22nd St.)

Washington, DC 20036


Saigon Bistro on Urbanspoon

12 Bars of Christmas

Sourced from:

Get into the holiday spirit(s) with Washington City Paper’s 12 Bars of Christmas. Everyday from Dec 2-17 between 6-9p, a different bar will have beer specials ranging from $3-5. Bring in your City Paper passport to get stamped and enter giveaway contests, with prizes such as 4 tickets to a Wizards game and a large flat screen television. Now that’s something to be merry about! For more information and a list of bars, click here.