Category Archives: List

Best Summer Soups in DC

This summer has been exceptionally scortching in DC.  Yet even with 100-degree plus temps, I still found myself craving soup–the one dish that is certainly not desireable in this heat.  Luckily for me, several DC restaurants have adapted their menus for the summer, featuring an abundance of refreshing soups that highlight the season’s produce.  Here are three of my favorites:

Blue Duck Tavern’s Watermelon Gazpacho

Known for its rustic American cooking, Blue Duck Tavern manages to elevate even the simplest of dishes with its emphasis on fresh, local ingredients.  Its watermelon gazpacho ($12, photographed above), recently featured as the soup of the day, was emblematic of its refined culinary approach.  Each bite was utterly refreshing, with the sweetness of the watermelon tempered by a generous drizzle of olive oil, ultimately making the soup more of a savory dish.  Served chilled, with fresh baked croutons and minty, slightly licorice-flavored herbs on top, it was a terrific, unique take on the classic gazpacho.

1201 24th St. NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 419-6755
Blue Duck Tavern on Urbanspoon

Fiola’s Summer Corn Gazpacho

I look forward to corn on the cob every summer, and Fiola’s summer corn gazpacho captures that sweet corn flavor in every bite.  The soup arrived chilled over a bowl of ice, garnished with beautiful purple flowers.  The texture was thicker and smoother than your typical gazpacho, with kernels of fresh golden corn throughout.  Featured as a starter on their “Maria’s Light Menu” (which is a steal for $24), Fiola’s summer corn gazpacho was a light and cooling introduction to what would be a fabulous lunch.

601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 628-2888
Fiola on Urbanspoon

Brasserie Beck’s English Pea Soup

Brasserie Beck’s English pea soup has the distinction of being the only hot soup to make this list.  Its temperature was not an issue at all, as the soup was possibly one of the most delicious dishes I ate all summer.  Creamy, pale green soup was poured over thick pieces of bacon, and topped with a perfectly poached egg and chives.  Despite the rich ingredients, the soup was incredibly light and left me wanting to lick my bowl for more.  It was creamy, earthy, savory, sweet, and slightly smoky all at once, but the fresh pea flavor definitely stood out above the rest.

1101 K. St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 408-1717
Brasserie Beck on Urbanspoon

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Best Bites of Brooklyn

(Photo via andrew c mace, flickr)

Brooklyn is infamous right now for its hipsters, hippies, and OWS, but NYC’s most populous borough also boasts a burgeoning food scene.  GQ restaurant critic Alan Richman proclaimed Brooklyn “the coolest city on the planet,” and Manhattanites seem to be flocking there in droves, whether it’s for pies paired with fried chicken or local artisan goods at Smorgasburg.

I hadn’t spent much time in Brooklyn, so I was excited to explore the borough’s food scene on a recent trip to NYC.  Here are 3 of the most memorable spots:

Blue Bottle Coffee 

I fell in love with Blue Bottle Coffee when I was in San Francisco last summer.  Despite the notoriously long lines and sometimes snobby service, the coffee is certainly worth the hassle.  Blue Bottle’s Williamsburg location is no different than its SF counterpart, and for that, I am extremely grateful.  The minimalist logo on the door in lieu of a sign, the sleek pour-over coffee bar, the seemingly endless lines, the disdainful looks customers get when they ask for ground coffee beans or low-fat milk–it’s all part of the Blue Bottle experience that makes your coffee taste even more glorious in the end.

But the Williamsburg Blue Bottle did have something I hadn’t seen in San Francisco–a snickerdoodle.  But of course, in typical Blue Bottle fashion, it’s not your ordinary snickerdoodle.  Theirs is made with Spanish saffron and Tahitian vanilla, which impart a beguiling, subtle sweetness reminiscent of the original, but much more sophisticated in flavor.  Blue Bottle‘s ability to elevate the old and familiar is what makes it special–that, and it’s just damn good coffee (excuse the language!).

160 Berry St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 387-4160
Blue Bottle on Urbanspoon

Roberta’s Pizza

After a glowing review in the NYT, in which restaurant critic Sam Sifton proclaimed it “one of the more extraordinary restaurants in the United States,” Roberta’s became even more of a sensation than it already was.  Located on a somewhat sketchy block of warehouses in Bushwick, the restaurant is definitely hipster central, perhaps on the verge of gentrification with the influx of yuppies and foodies (like myself).

The owners have done a great job transforming the space into a casual, congenial scene: diners sit at long communal picnic tables, and a shabby chic tarp hangs over the outdoor bar.  Definitely get comfortable at the bar and order an excellent dark and stormy, because chances are you will be waiting 2+ hours for a table, especially on  weekends.  I’ll admit I flipped my lid a little when the hostess informed me of the wait time.

While I’m not sure it’s worth waiting 3 hours for, the pizza at Roberta’s was quite good.  The secret is in the crust–perfectly charred and chewy.  I ordered the Purple Nurple ($15), which came topped with tomato, mozzarella, ricotta, eggplant, garlic and basil.  My friend and I also split a squash salad ($12) and truffle agnoletti ($18), which were both excellent and demonstrated the kitchen’s skill and restraint.   The real standout, however, was definitely the pizza.

261 Moore St.
Brooklyn, NY 11206
(718) 417-1118
Roberta's on Urbanspoon

Purple Yam

Though I’m always skeptical of Asian fusion restaurant, Purple Yam manages to simultaneously retain its authenticity while adding distinctly modern twists to traditional dishes.  The chefs and owners, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, opened Purple Yam in 2009 after running a successful Filipino-fusion restaurant in SoHo, and it remains a dining destination for Ditmas Park today.

My friends and I started with the fried beet dumplings ($6) and fresh lumpia ($7).  I was afraid the beet dumplings would be a disaster, but was pleasantly surprised by the contrary.  They were flavorful, chewy, and pleasantly sweet, offsetting the saltiness of the soy sauce.  As for the fresh lumpia, I think I prefer its more traditional fried and sausage-centric counterpart, but it was a respectable effort nonetheless.  The lumpia reminded me more of a Vietnamese steamed noodle roll with its sauteed Napa cabbage, leek and mushroom filling and peanut and tamarind sauce, which I suppose is what they were going for, though the name was a misnomer.

The chicken adobo ($12) was a revelation, incorporating integral elements of the original dish, but upgrading the flavors and quality of the ingredients.  Braised in garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, and coconut milk, the chicken was tender on the inside, crispy and crackling on the outside.

Perhaps the most surprising dish was the bibimbap ($9), with brown rice, carrots, turnip, taro, edamame, and a fried egg.  I have very high expectations for bibimbap, which is one of my favorite Korean dishes, and I’m happy to report that Purple Yam’s rendition exceeded my expectations.  Each vegetable was meticulously cut and perfectly cooked, and the flavors all complemented each other well.  It was a more refined adaptation of a classic, which seems to be Purple Yam’s greatest strength.

1314 Cortelyou Road
Brooklyn, NY 11226
(718) 940-8118
Purple Yam on Urbanspoon

Compost for Brooklyn 

After brunch at Purple Yam, I got a VIP tour of Compost for Brooklyn‘s community garden, given by my friend and co-founder of Compost for Brooklyn, Louise Bruce.   Located on E. 8th St. and Newkirk Ave., the former vacant lot is now green and gorgeous–filled with tons of trees, vegetables, and native plants.

In addition to the garden, Compost for Brooklyn runs a free community composting program and education program for kids and teenagers in the neighborhood.  These programs have been positively received by children and adults in the community alike, who all greeted Louise with a smile as they passed by us.  Seeing all of her efforts and passion for the environment come to fruition was very inspiring, and I wish the organization the best of luck in the future.

To learn more about Compost for Brooklyn, visit their website or email compostforbrooklyn [at] gmail [dot] com.  (Fun fact for foodies: Miriam Garron, Bobby Flay’s sous chef on Throwdown, is Vice Chairman of the Board!)

The Great Laksa Debate

After staying inside for the past 2 days due to Hurricane Irene and having gone through my food rations for the weekend, I found myself fighting back a strong craving for…laksa.  To the uninitiated, it might be quite a random dish to crave, especially in the middle of a tropical storm.   But for those who have tasted this heavenly Southeast Asian concoction of rich coconut curry broth, noodles, and seafood, then you’ll understand my addiction.

I was fortunate to try several varieties of laksa while in Hong Kong.  Here are my top 4, an attempt to settle the great laksa debate:

Malaymama

My love affair with laksa began at Malaymama in Sheung Wan.  With a cute logo and clean storefront, this tiny Malaysian spot usually has a long line outside at lunch, with diners eager to try the restaurant’s famed laksa and prawn mee (another famous Southeast Asian noodle dish).  Malaymama uses a mild, slightly sweet curry coconut milk broth in its laksa (photographed above) that is deceptively flavorful.  Served with fried tofu, shrimp, eggplant, and a mix of egg and rice noodles, this is a solid version that will appeal to laksa newbies and pros alike.  (Tip: Malaymama offers a teatime/dinner special.  $120 HKD for 2 people: each guest has choice of drink, laksa or prawn mee, and kaya toast.  Call restaurant for specific times.)

Shop 11A, Mercer Street, Sheung Wan
2542-4111

Katong Laksa Prawn Mee

Located directly across the street from Malaymama, Katong Laksa may seem very similar to its counterpart at first glance.  However, there is a world of difference between the two, especially in their laksas.  While Malaymama serves the Malaysian nyonya laksa, Katong Laksa specializes in the Singaporean version, which is most famous in the Katong region.  Though both versions are coconut milk-based, the noodles in katong laksa are often cut into smaller pieces.  I found Katong Laksa‘s version to be satisfactory.  I liked the addition of fish balls, which added a nice chewiness.  The broth, however, was a bit on the salty side for me.  Other standouts at Katong Laksa include prawn mee and mee siam, a sweet and sour noodle soup dish.

G/F, 8 Mercer St., Sheung Wan
2543-4008

Yeoh’s Bah Kut Teh 

My favorite of the four, though I think it may be the least traditional and heaviest on the coconut milk.  Yeoh’s Bah Kut Teh is a Chinese-Malaysian restaurant also located in Sheung Wan.  Though most famous for its claypot bah kut teh, Yeoh’s also serves a sinfully rich, artery-clogging laksa.  The broth was thick, creamy, and full of coconut milk, with both a sweet and savory flavor.  And as if the broth were not doing enough damage to your arteries already, the laksa is topped with a whole prawn, hard boiled egg, dried shrimps, and fried tofu puffs.

Shop G61-62, G/F, Midland Centre, 328 Queens Road, Sheung Wan
2543-2181

King Laksa 

Tucked into a nondescript alley in Central, King Laksa wins for the best toppings.  King Laksa serves an Indonesian version, featuring a savory yellow curry broth that is slightly lighter than the others.  I ordered their deluxe or supreme laksa, which came with fish balls, imitation crab, oysters, scallops, shrimp, and a hard boiled egg.  The bowl was swimming in seafood!  King Laksa’s noodle selection also sets it apart.  I ordered mine with the silver needle noodles, which were delightfully chewy and complimented the broth well.

G/F, 20 Gilman’s Bazaar, Central
2581-1871

What the RAMMYs Missed

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington unveiled the nominations for the 2010 RAMMY awards yesterday at a swanky bash at the Ritz-Carlton. My friends Jen (at freshcrackedpepper) and Mary (the girl behind Girl Meets Food) were lucky enough to attend the event, and snapped a few delicious photos of the evening. A full list of the nominees is available here.

Not to detract from the prestige of the award, but I have to say that I am disappointed with the nominations. DC’s dining scene is way more vibrant, and way more varied, than the RAMMY list would make it seem. And I just don’t understand this city’s obsession with the Michel Richard (Citronelle, Central), Jose Andres (Jaleo, Cafe Atlantico, Zaytinya, Oyamel), and Wolfgang Puck (The Source) restaurant empires. I have yet to be blown away by a meal at any of these places.

So, what restaurants would I have nominated, you may ask? I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite restaurants, which were sadly overlooked.

Eatonville: This unique spot transports you to the whimsical world of Zora Neale Hurston with bright murals adorning the walls, vintage crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and worn white picket fences encircling some of the tables. But the quirky-cool atmosphere isn’t the only draw; so is the food. The menu features creole and Southern comfort food at its best, and for affordable prices. Mac and cheese ooozes with butter and cheddar, gumbo exudes an intense smoky flavor, and pan fried trout sings with the addition of chopped pecans. Make sure to check out Eatonville the next time you are on U St.!

Legends: No, Legends is not “fine dining.” But it’s fresh and honest Greek food in a simple and modest (and blue and white, in traditional Greek fashion) setting. And man, those gyros. Don’t even get me started on those mouthwatering gyros.

Ray’s the Steaks: I love steaks. But as the unpaid gourmet, I don’t have the cash to eat at The Palm, or BLT Steak, or any of the other venerable steakhouses in DC. Luckily, Ray’s the Steaks offers top-notch, well-priced steaks in a casual yet upscale setting. Ray’s filet mignon au poivre is arguably one of the best versions I’ve tried: perfectly cooked with a rosy pink center, juicy and tender on the inside, with a slightly charred peppercorn crust on the outside. Plus, all steaks come with a complimentary family-style side of buttery mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. And if that were not enough indulgence, a complimentary cup of hot chocolate arrives at the end of the meal. Now that is what I call a value meal.

Asian Food (in general): Did anyone else notice the complete lack of Asian restaurants nominated? The DC Asian dining scene is not limited to Chinese takeout or mediocre chicken teriyaki bowls; there’s so much more. What about Four Sisters, the beloved Vietnamese restaurant in Falls Church? Or Sichuan Pavilion, which serves some of the most authentic mapo dofu and dan dan mian I’ve had since living in China? Or Kotobuki, the hidden sushi mecca in the Palisades with legions of loyal fans?