Tag Archives: Dupont Circle

ShopHouse & BONMi: Southeast Asian Wave Hits DC

Photo credit: flickr user tedeytan 

I’m a total sucker for Southeast Asian cuisine, especially banh mi–Vietnam’s ingenious interpretation of a sub that combines its French colonial history with indigenous Vietnamese flavors and ingredients.  Encased in an unbelievably crispy, porous baguette made from rice flour, banh mi usually features various meats and offal (like pate and head cheese) as fillings, topped with slices of pickled carrots and cucumber for sweetness, and cilantro and jalepenos for heat.  The combination is beguiling, with each bite revealing different flavors and textures.  Best of all, banh mi definitely qualifies as a cheap eat; I’ve seen it as cheap at $2.50 in some places, but never more than $6.  In short, it may be the best sandwich ever invented.

So imagine my delight in finding out that two new restaurants, specializing in banh mi, recently opened in DC:  ShopHouse in Dupont Circle and BonMi in downtown.  Prior to these restaurants’ arrivals, banh mi fans like myself would have to travel all the way to the Eden Center to get a authentic version.  I set out to try both, in hopes that I would finally get a decent banh mi fix in the District and save myself the pain of 30+ minute WMATA ride to Virginia.

ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen

ShopHouse got a lot of buzz prior to opening, as the first new concept from Chipotle owner Steve Ells.  Media and bloggers descended on ShopHouse as soon as it opened, and greeted it with mixed reviews.  The set-up is very similar to Chipotle, with its signature quick assembly line filled with Southeast Asian ingredients such as long beans and eggplant with Thai basil, rather than guacamole and corn salsa.  Diners start by choosing a noodle bowl, rice bowl (brown or white available), or banh mi, and then continue down the line choosing their toppings and sauces.

My boyfriend and I shared a steak noodle bowl with spicy red curry sauce ($7.50) and a grilled chicken satay banh mi ($6.59).  First, I must say that I was particularly impressed with the quality of ingredients: everything looked very fresh, with toppings on the assembly line constantly being replaced with fresh-made batches.  The dishes themselves, however, disappointed a little.

The steak noodle bowl was intensely flavorful, in a not-so-pleasant way.  There was no balance to the dish; everything from the charred (albeit chewy) steak, to the pickled veggies, to the salted peanuts, to the fiery red curry sauce, seemed to compete with, rather than complement, each other.  My bowl was also doused in the red curry sauce, which even for a spice fiend like myself, was just too much–I ended up drinking about a quart of water throughout the rest of the day.

We liked the grilled chicken satay banh mi better than the steak bowl, but it still wasn’t great.  The chicken, pickled veggies, and herbs on top were all tasty, but the main problem was the bread–a limp and lifeless loaf of white monotony.  Fans of banh mi know that the baguette can make or break the dish; it needs to be crispy, airy, and golden.  ShopHouse’s version was none of these things and proved to be the downfall of an otherwise passable banh mi.

1516 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 232-4141
Open 11am-10pm
ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen on Urbanspoon


DC foodies, as well as office workers tired of the usual ho-hum delis in downtown, greeted BONMi with open arms when it arrived in Farragut Square.  Touted as a “Vietnamese inspired fast casual restaurant,” BONMi was started by the JBH Advisory Group, a restaurant consulting firm in NYC.  The restaurant definitely seems geared toward the global-minded downtown DC elite, as evidenced by its proximity to the World Bank, commitment to sustainability, and clean sleek interior.

In addition, BONMi’s appeal extends to foodies as well.  Traditional meat fillings are updated with interesting spices (think five spice chicken and garlic black pepper pork) and prepared sous vide–the Top Chef/Wiley Dufresne-approved cooking technique of the moment.  BONMi did not leave out vegetarians either, offering chile garlic tofu or butternut squash dipped in a coconut curry sauce as well.

On my visit, I ordered a lemongrass chicken banh mi and Vietnamese iced coffee ($8.75 total).  The Vietnamese iced coffee was bottled, which I have not seen before, and tasted more like milk than coffee.

Whereas I faulted ShopHouse for their bread, BONMi definitely hit the mark spot-on with its crackly, airy baguette.  Each bite left tons of crumbs all over the table–a mark of a good banh mi.  BONMi put a lot of effort into sourcing its bread, working directly with Lyon Bakery in Virginia to find the right batch.

The other ingredients, however, missed the mark for me.  Like ShopHouseBONMi also has an assembly line-style ordering system, but none of the meats looked very appealing or fresh.  I had my heart set on the five spice chicken, but the murky greasy-looking juices the chicken had been sitting in scared me a little, and I decided to go with the lemongrass chicken instead.  While the lemongrass chicken was tasty, it had a rubbery texture.  And whatever lemongrass flavor the chicken had was drowned out by the bright orange-spicy mayo slathered on top of it.  That said, I still enjoyed BONMi and judging from the sizeable crowd even at 1:30 in the afternoon, others feel the same way.

900 19th St. NW
Washington, DC 20006
Open Mon-Fri 11:00am-7:00pm
BONMi on Urbanspoon

The Verdict: Though not the best or most authentic (or cheapest) banh mi’s I’ve ever had, both ShopHouse and BONMi do the trick if you’re in serious need of a banh mi fix but don’t feel like metro-ing all the way out to NoVA.  However, if you’re looking for a traditional, top-notch version, you’ll probably still have to travel outside the District to find it, since both restaurants must adapt and appeal to more mainstream American palates and prices.

Komi: The Meal of a Lifetime

Words (or my words, at least) cannot do Komi the justice it deserves. How can I even attempt to describe the epic 19-course tasting menu (plus wine pairings) that, for once, left me speechless from its brilliance? I’ll try to keep this post short and sweet and keep my gushing to a minimum.

Komi chef and owner Johnny Monis has created a gastronomic temple to his native Meditteranean cuisine, putting his own flair and technique on a mesmerizing array of Greek-inspired dishes since the restaurant’s opening in 2004. At 7 years old, Monis knew he wanted to be a chef. His first taste of the industry was working at his parents’ pizza restaurant in Alexandria. He workes at the venerable McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston, SC and headed the kitchen at Chef Geoff’s before venturing out on his own to open Komi.

At Komi, diners play entirely by Monis’ rules, which luckily, tends to be in the former’s favor. Monis offers one $125 set menu, which begins with a series of light mezzethakia (Greek for small plates) and progresses to heavier, more substantial main dishes. Of course, he will accomodate diners with dietary restrictions or allergies; but if it’s simply a matter of not wanting to try new ingredients, then take my advice and trust Monis. Adventurous eaters will be more than rewarded.

Unfortunately, another one of Monis’ rules is no photography allowed in the restaurant–which means I’ve got to rely on good old-fashioned writing to describe the meal. While every single one of the nineteen courses was fantastic, there are a few that really stood out to me:

  • Taramosalata: A bite-sized sphere of warm, toasted brioche topped with Greek yogurt, chives, and roe. The roe brought a salty brininess that was both enhanced and subdued by the cool, slightly tart yogurt.
  • Sorbet: Not your average palate-cleansing sorbet. Shiso leaf sorbet sat atop a bed of cold smoked salmon, with candied pine nuts interspersed. Beautiful interplay of textures and flavors: intense sweetness from the sorbet balanced by the salty salmon, with accents of crunchy pine nuts throughout.
  • Souvlaki: I mistakenly thought souvlaki could only be made out of chicken, but boy, was I wrong. Monis served his using pork belly–perfectly seared and crisp on the outside, luscious and fatty on the inside. My boyfriend and I wished we could have eaten 10 more of these.
  • Tagliatelle with sausage, mushrooms, and blueberries: An unlikely flavor combination that was breathtaking in its exquisiteness. Every element of this dish just worked: the handmade pasta melted in your mouth, the housemade sausage added gentle heat to the dish, and mushrooms and blueberries provided earthy notes that brought everything together.
  • Katsikaki: Komi’s infamous roasted goat shoulder. I’m not usually a fan of goat; I find it too gamey and stringey. But Komi’s rendition converted me. The meat was so tender, falling off the bone with a mere poke of the fork. The exterior also had a nice crust, full of zesty, salty flavor. Served with an aray of condiments (eggplant puree, oregano salt, hot sauce, pickled cabbage) and the best, doughiest, butter-laden pita bread I’ve ever had, it was certainly the most memorable and surprising dish of the evening. No wonder it’s one of their signature dishes.
  • Loukoumades: I became a devotee of these Greek donuts drizzled in honey after the Saint Sophia Greek Festival. Komi’s version stayed true to the original, pairing them with Greek yogurt gelato. A whimsical tribute to Monis’ ancestral home and a lovely way to end the meal.

That, my friends, was not even half of the meal! It was a truly epic evening of marathon eating.

We gilded the lily even more by opting for the wine pairing ($68). Sommelier Kathryn Bangs chose 5 wines for us, starting with a sparkling white and progressing from there. My favorites were the Refosco/Mavrodaphne Mercouri Estate, Ilia Greece 2004 and the Moscato Blend, “Bigaro” Elio Perrone, Italy 2009. The refosco was a pleasant red that tasted almost like it had tropical flavors–hints of banana even. And the Moscato was divine–a crisp, ambrosial effervescent dessert wine. This ruby-red dessert wine was truly a gem: floral, light, and refreshing.

The service and the decor made us feel right at home. Servers were always on hand to refill water glasses and answer any questions about the food, never doing so in a pretentious manner. And with only 12 tables in its spare yet inviting dining room, Komi provides one of the most intimate dining experiences in DC. It’s exclusive without being snobby, lavish without being over the top–traits seen far less often than they should be at restaurants of this caliber.

And now, the million dollar question (or more precisely, the $193+tax question): is Komi worth the hefty price tag? I will admit, I hesitated many times about making the reservation, and vacillated between ordering the wine pairing or not. It’s just so expensive, I thought, how could one meal be worth that much?

But after that revelatory 19-course meal, where every course was even more extraordinary than the last, I can wholeheartedly say…YES.  It’s worth it if you have the means or a special occasion to go. (Like the Obamas’ date night .  Or I went for my birthday! And it was truly a memorable birthday at that. Here’s to hoping Komi needs a poster girl in the near future!)


1509 17th St. NW

Washington, DC 20036

(202) 332-9200

Komi on Urbanspoon


Floriana: A Family Affair

Floriana is one of those places that I’ve walked past a thousand times, but never had the time nor the inclination to venture inside. That is, until this past Saturday night, when one of Floriana’s owners contacted me about trying out the restaurant. (Note: I paid for my own meal. Only drinks were comped, which I will not include in this review–though I will say that the sangria was delicious.)

Floriana has occupied its prime location on Dupont Circle’s 17th St. since 1979. For 31 years, Floriana’s handmade pastas and rustic Italian cuisine has built a loyal following, especially among the neighborhood’s gay community. The restaurant emphasizes its cozy and intimate ambiance, where regulars and newcomers alike are made to feel like they’re eating in someone’s house. Run by Floriana and her son and daughter-in-law, the restaurant is truly a family affair, with menu items even named after family members.

I was a big fan of the ambiance, especially the outdoor patio. It was inviting and pleasant, despite the muggy heat, and I loved the white twinkle lights strewn through the trees above. And on a busy, often flamboyant, corner of 17th St., the patio is an excellent spot for people watching and taking in the night scene.

I wish I could say I was as enthused about the food. We started off with the beet down salad ($9) and the shrimp and avocado appetizer ($12). The beet down consisted of roasted red and golden beets and Asian pears tossed with a honey ginger vinaigrette. I enjoyed the beets, but I found the pears lost a lot of their crunch from the dressing. I also wish the presentation had been a bit less rustic–perhaps a garnish on the plate would have helped. Otherwise, what arrives at the table really is a beet down–a haphazard pile of what could be, with a little more fine-tuning, a composed and elegant salad.

The shrimp and avocado appetizer was refreshing on a hot summer day. I liked the creamy ripeness of the avocado paired with the shrimp. And while I initially found the aioli on top to be too heavy, it eventually grew on me and brought all of the components of the dish together.

For our entrees, we ordered the two pastas that Floriana handmakes: tortelloni mignon ($19) and ravioli di zucca ($16). The tortelloni mignon are tortellini-shaped pasta stuffed with herb seasoned beef tenderloin, topped off with a cream tomato sauce. This was by far my favorite pasta dish out of the two; it reminded me of Chef Boyardee ravioli, but with better and fresher ingredients (and clearly, not out of a can). However, I’m not sure it was good enough to justify the $19 price tag, especially considering the on-the-small-side portion.

The ravioli di zucca was also tasty: pockets of handmade ravioli filled with pureed butternut squash and cheese, served with a sage butter sauce.  I appreciated that the ravioli weren’t swimming in butter and cheese, as I’ve been dismayed to find at other restaurants. But at the same time, the pasta tasted a bit dry and could have used a tad more sauce. The flavor of the butternut squash also seemed muted.

Everything considered, my meal at Floriana was decent. I’m a fan of the location and warm atmosphere; both the patio and the interior are adorable. It’s a great option if you’re in Dupont and looking for a homey spot to people watch and have a drink. But otherwise, judging only from the limited part of the menu I sampled, I’d head elsewhere for Italian food.


1602 17th St. NW

Washington, DC 20009

(202) 667-5937

Floriana Mercury Grill on Urbanspoon

Weekend Round-Up

Despite today’s beautiful and non-humid weather, this weekend promises to be as steamy and muggy as ever, with temperatures reaching into the nineties. (Obviously, this will do wonders for my hair and wardrobe.) If you’re looking to beat the heat with some Unpaid Gourmet-approved cheap eats and drinks, then keep on reading!


Chocolate and Wine at Biagio: Indulge yourself at Biagio Fine Chocolate, one of DC’s best artisan chocolate shops, with a free chocolate and wine tasting from 3-6 p.m. Wines will be brought in from neighboring A.M. Wine Shoppe and paired with Biagio’s decadent seasonal chocolates. (My favorite pairing is Pinot Noir with dark chocolate–phenomenal.) You won’t want to miss this sinfully delicious afternoon! Check out Girl Meets Food for more details.

Taste of Reston: This 3-day event (Fri, Sat, Sun) touts itself as Northern Virginia’s largest outdoor food festival with samplings from over 30 area restaurants, including The Melting Pot, Chef Geoff’s, and Pitango Gelato. Make sure to be there on Saturday from 12-5 p.m. for the Guns n’ Hoses Chili Cook-off–the “ultimate battle of the heroes.” The police and fire departments of Reston will compete for the title of Best Chili and the audience will be the judge (which, of course, means samples!). Once you’ve had enough to eat, check out the other festivities which include live music, beer and wine gardens, a Kids Corner with games, and the best part–a carnival with rides! Tickets to the carnival cost $20, but admission to Taste of Reston is free of charge. Food tickets are $1/ticket or $20/24 tickets. Click here for more info.


Festa Italiana: From 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., DCers will be able to get a real taste of Italian cuisine at the Festa Italiana. Located at the Holy Rosary Church (just past the Judiciary Square metro), the festa will feature live music, Italian folk dance lessons, a silent auction, Italian car shows, and a medieval dance troupe visiting direct from Italy. And if all that isn’t enough to lure you to the festival, maybe the fantastic menu will: stuffed veal neck with salsa verde, torta filled with swiss chard, leeks, zucchini and parmesan cheese, pizza, gelato, and (my favorite) cannolis. Admission is free and details on this scrumptious event can be found here.

Father’s Day: It’s not too late to make reservations for Father’s Day brunch, lunch, or dinner, especially if you take a look at the Washingtonian’s handy guide. From steak at Dino’s to chocolate, bacon, and beer brunch at Coco Sala, to a sumptuous farmers market feast at Blue Duck Tavern, there’s no way Dad won’t find something he doesn’t like.

Happy weekend everyone, and stay cool!

Photo courtesy of Fast Forward Event Productions/Wikimedia Commons


Weekend Round-up

The National Cathedral. Photo credit: AgnosticPreachersKid/Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a quick round-up of what’s happening this weekend, culled from my favorite D.C. blogs and websites:

Saturday 5/8

Shortcut to Europe: Travel across the EU on Saturday–without even leaving the District! Just like last week’s Embassy tours, the EU Embassies will be rolling out the red carpets for patrons this weekend. From 10 a.m.-4 p.m. this weekend, EU embassies will be open for tours and offer cultural activities–and in some cases, cuisine–to the public. Free shuttles to the different embassies leave from Dupont Circle, on Massachusetts Ave. Click here for more details.

National Cathedral Flower Mart: Take in the beauty of spring flowers and prime views of the National Cathedral at the 71st Annual Flower Mart. Sponsored by the All Hallows Guild, this free event draws as many as 10,000 people every year. In addition to the gorgeous flowers that will be on hand, there will also be entertainment, art, rides and games, and of course, food! The Ukrainian embassy will also be on hand to showcase Ukrainian culture and cuisine. The event starts today (Friday) from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Click here for more details.

National Train Day: All abaord for trains galore at Union Station on Saturday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.! But wait–even if you’re not a train aficionado, there will still be plenty to do at this free event. Meet and greet with the National Train Day spokesperson, Taye Diggs (*sigh,* one of my faves) or watch a cooking demonstration (and snag a sample) from Michel Richard, of Central and Citronelle fame. Click here for more details.

Sunday 5/9

Dolcezza Grand Opening Party: Finally! After being postponed for a month, Dolcezza Gelato is hosting its grand opening party on Sunday from 12-6 p.m. at its spiffy new Dupont location. Head over for free samples of its artisan Argentinean gelato and smoked pig from Bev Eggleston of Eco-Friendly Foods. An odd combination at first glance, yes, but when you think about it, gelato and pork could be the best marriage of food ever. Check here for details.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Around the World in 1 Day

Last weekend was filled with glorious spring weather and loads of fabulous food events (as I wrote here). My friends and I spent a blissful Saturday afternoon at two of these events: Cultural DC’s Embassy Tours and Taste of Eighth. With the splendid array of international cuisine and culture featured at each of these gatherings, I felt like I had traveled around the world by the end of the day.

First stop was the Korean embassy, where pleasantly smoky aromas and sounds of Korean barbecue sizzling on the grill greeted us. After waiting in line for 30 minutes, we were rewarded for our patience with a plate of kalbi (barbecued spare ribs), rice, and kimchi (the infamous Korean dish of spicy fermented cabbage). I always lament the dearth of Korean restaurants in DC, and was very grateful to the Korean Embassy for providing a satisfying, authentic taste of Korean cuisine (and for free!). The kalbi tasted slightly nutty from the sesame seed oil and smoky from the grill–perfectly cooked to be chewy and meaty. The rice and spicy kimchi provided a tasty accompaniment.

In addition to food, the embassy also showcased Korean culture with tae kwon do demonstrations, Korean drumming, and gorgeous exhibits of traditional Korean art and clothes. It was a fun and lively way to become acquainted with Korea’s exciting culture!

Next on our international tour was the Brazilian embassy. I won’t even attempt to describe how idyllic and charming the Spanish colonial style house looked, with sunlight streaming in through the tall windows, ornate wall paintings, dark mahogany furniture, and lush bougainvillea-filled gardens outside. Words can’t do it justice, but photos just might.

The only thing that the Brazilian embassy was missing: some Brazilian food. I would have loved to chow down on some pao de queijo (cheesy yuca bread), picanha (Brazilian grilled meat), and feijoada (a hearty black bean stew) after milling through the impeccable embassy.

After the embassy tours, we headed to the opposite end of town to Capitol Hill, where the annual Taste of Eighth event was taking place. Since we arrived at 3:00, and the event ended at 4:00, it was a bit frenzied to use up all our tickets and get to all the vendors in time. But, in what’s probably a record time of 30 minutes, we were able visit 5 (technically 6, if you count Levi’s which closed early) restaurants and sample some of the tastiest food I’ve had in a while.

Cava Mezze, which specializes in Greek small plates, served the most delicious roasted lamb chops with homemade pita chips, hummus, dolmas (grape leaves), and homemade yogurt. Though not all lamb chops were equal (my boyfriend’s was particularly fatty), mine was very meaty, juicy, and tender. It was so good that I couldn’t stop myself from gnawing on the bone! The pita chips were also phenomenal: crunchy and crisp on the outside, but soft and bready on the inside. Great with the tangy yogurt and spicy red pepper-flecked hummus.

Next, we walked over to Zest, which served a lamp wrap with onions and pomegranate barbecue sauce (pictured in the top right). The wrap was hearty and flavorful. But I wasn’t a big fan of the pomegranate sauce; a bit too sweet and overpowering for my taste. The bread was also a bit hard, probably from sitting out in the sun all day, but hey, I understand it’s street food.

Starfish Cafe, a bright and eclectic cafe further down 8th St., offered avocado gazpacho and ceviche (pictured in the bottom left). This was the only restaurant where patrons could sit inside and eat; and it was a much needed respite  from the heat. The gazpacho and ceviche were both refreshing and light.

For our last dish, we chose Capitol Hill Tandoor, where a vibrant, colorful dish caught our eye. They served chicken biryani, a traditional Indian rice dish. The flavor was incredible: mildly spiced, but complex in flavor. The chicken in the dish was also super tender.

And for a sweet ending to a sweet day, we went to Ted’s Bulletin for the most decadent vanilla milkshakes, with fresh dark chocolate shavings on top. Ted’s Bulletin, which was set to open this week, is a cute 30’s style diner. With milkshakes that tasty, I’ll definitely be coming back for more.

Cava Mezze

527 8th St. SE

Washington, DC 20003


Cava on Urbanspoon

Zest Bistro

735 8th St. SE

Washington, DC 20003


Zest Bistro on Urbanspoon

Starfish Cafe

539 8th St. SE

Washington, DC 20003


Starfish Cafe on Urbanspoon

Capitol Hill Tandoor and Grill

419 8th Se. SE

Washington, DC 20003


Capitol Hill Tandoor & Grill on Urbanspoon

Ted’s Bulletin

505 8th St. SE

Washington, DC 20003


Ted's Bulletin on Urbanspoon

Weekend Round-Up

The weather forecast predicts gloriously warm temps in the 80s for this weekend. Woot woot! I am beyond excited to finally get out of this cold weather slump and dawn sundresses and sandals again. Luckily for me, and all Unpaid Gourmet readers out there, this weekend is full of fabulous events that offer good food, outdoor fun, and occasions to show finally show off your summer wardrobe. Here’s a list of events, compiled from some of my favorite D.C. blogs:

Saturday 5/1

Passport DC Embassy Tours: This Saturday, Washingtonians can travel around the world in one day. From 10 a.m.-4 p.m., embassies from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas will all be open to the public for tours and activities. Each embassy will have booths, performances, and food (!) that will showcase their country’s culture. I’ll for sure be stopping by the Korean embassy, which will offer samples of delicious kimchi (their signature fermented cabbage) and Korean barbecue, and the Thai embassy, which will of course serve pad thai. For a complete schedule of events, click here. And please note: some embassies (e.g. Japan) require that you pick up tickets in advance. Thanks to the Going Out Gurus for pointing out this event!

Taste of Eighth: From 1-4 p.m., Barracks Row on Capitol Hill will host their annual Taste of Eighth event, where 14 restaurants along 8th St. will offer samples of their most delectable dishes. Participating restaurants include Cava Mezze (Greek small plates), Belga Cafe (Belgian fare), Levi’s Port Cafe (Soul food), Zest (recently opened, with American cuisine focused on using local ingredients), and many more. Tickets for food samples are $5 each or $20 for 5 tickets, and will be sold at retail shops on 8th St. Click here for more details. Props to Tasting Table DC for publicizing the event (and for your daily emails, which I would be lost without).

Cafe Green Opening Party: Prince of Petworth is one of the best sources for events and news all around D.C.–follow him on Twitter for the most up-to-the-minute updates (@popville). That’s how I found out about the Cafe Green Opening Party on Saturday! The restaurant will be open and serving its organic vegan cuisine from 11 a.m.-11p.m., along with a gift card raffle, music, and tons of specials. My friend is a big fan of Java Green (Cafe Green’s sister restaurant), so I’m sure the food will be excellent. Plus, there just aren’t many vegan restaurants in the D.C. area and it would be great to support one. Click here for more details–and menus!

Capital City Cheesecake Opening: If you’re in Takoma Park on Saturday, stop by Capital City Cheesecake for its grand opening. Capital City Cheesecake, or CCC, gained a following by selling their decadent cheesecakes online. Now, the bakery is finally moving to a brick-and-mortar shop, which will serve fresh baked bagels, truffles, and fair trade coffee in addition to cheesecake. Shoutouts to the Washington City Paper’s incomparable Tim Carman for scooping this event. Check out the Young and Hungry blog for more details.

Kentucky Derby Happy Hour at Acadiana: Put on your fanciest hat and heels and head over to the Kentucky Derby happy hour at Acadiana. From 5-7 p.m., the bar will offer $5 mint juleps and $5 Derby-inspired dishes to celebrate the race. See the Washingtonian for more details.

Sunday 5/2

Street Performance Festival at French Embassy: If you were disappointed with last week’s Georgetown French Market (which, in my opinion, was sorely lacking), then perhaps this event will satisfy your French cravings. From 12:30-6 p.m., la maison francaise will host more than 40 performances throughout the day. Performers include jugglers, acrobats, comedians, and more.  Patrons can nibble on dainty French pastries (like crepes, quiches, and croissants) and sip Mimosas while watching the show. Tickets are $5 in advance and $10 at the door; children under age 10 get in free. Click here for more details and props to the Washingtonian for finding the event.

Wags and Wine: For wine lovers in VA (or those in DC with cars), this is the event for you. From 1-4 p.m., Wags and Wine will offer over 40 wines to taste and food from Cafe Oggi, a popular Mclean restaurant. The event will be held at the Palladium’s Civic Green fountain courtyard and admission is $10. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Washington Humane Society, so animal lovers should check out the event as well. Click here for details; thanks to Tasting Table DC for the notice.

Bethesda Row Restaurant Week: Sunday marks the last day of Bethesda Row’s Restaurant Week–hurry over before these great deals end! As my friend Mary over at Girl Meets Food writes, guests can enjoy a three-course lunch for $15 or a three-course dinner for $30 at participating restaurants. These include Le Pain Quotidien, Jaleo, Lebanese Taverna, and many more. Check out the Web site for more details.

Have a wonderful, sun-and-food-filled weekend, everyone!

Fresh Falafel at Maoz Vegetarian

First off, I have some exciting news. Where the Locals Eat, a site that compiles the best food blogs in America, has selected The Unpaid Gourmet to be a featured blog for Washington, D.C. Hooray! Now, The Unpaid Gourmet posts can also be found on Where the Locals Eat. Hopefully, this will attract more readers and publicity, both of which are always appreciated by a novice food blogger like myself.

And now, onto the meat of this post (or in this case, the falafel). I usually try to avoid reviewing chains, but there are some that are just so good, they deserve a glowing review. Maoz Vegetarian is one such chain.

The first Maoz opened in Amsterdam, Holland in 1991, with a mission to “spread the vegetarian lifestyle in mind.” Customers loved Maoz‘ fresh take on falafel and ultra chic look. The company expanded all across Europe and arrived in the States in 2004 (its first U.S. location was in Philadelphia).

D.C. was lucky to get its very own Maoz this year. Located in Dupont Circle, Maoz is nestled between a slightly seedy-looking bar and a worn building with a sign for “Jasmine Therapy” (whatever that may be…). Maoz clearly stands out from its neighbors, with its sleek new sign and bright lime green windows.

Now, I already know what you are thinking. Has this blogger ever been to Amsterdam Falafelshop, D.C.’s ever popular, critically acclaimed falafel shop in Adams Morgan? And even if she has, how could she possibly betray this beloved Washington establishment?

Well, I am here to tell you, dear reader, that there is good–even, dare I say, amazing— falafel outside the confines of Amersterdam Falafelshop and it can be found at Maoz. Maoz has a similar layout to Amsterdam Falafelshop, in that both have the fully stocked self-serve toppings bars (pictured above). Both places have similar toppings too: tabbouleh, cucmbers, lettuce, yogurt sauce, etc. But what sets Maoz apart is their fresh-tasting, virtually greaseless falafel and their crispy, addicting sweet potato fries.

I ordered the junior Maoz sandwich with sweet potato fries and a drink, all for under $10. A junior-sized sandwich seemes small at first, but with the generous portion of sweet potato fries, it turned out to be just the right size. The pita was warm and hearty, the falafel crisp and speckled with chopped parlsey and cilantro. Of course, I piled my pita high with toppings, which included tabbouleh (bulghur wheat with herbs and lemon juice), red cabbage, cucumber, tomato, and marinated carrots. I also highly recommend the garlic sauce–it was sweet and not overpowering, and a perfect accompaniment to both the falafel and those heavenly sweet potato fries.

And oh man, those fries were to die for. I am usually not one to be impressed with sweet potato fries, since I make my own at home (side note: slice up a sweet potato into french fries, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake in the oven at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes until crisp for your own sweet potato fries!). But the fries at Maoz, I have to admit, were far superior to mine and any others I have tried for that matter. They were piping hot, crisp and salty on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. I vowed to save half of the fries for my boyfriend, but despite my efforts to the contrary, I devoured every single one.

After just a few visits, I have been converted to an avid fan of Maoz. Its sleek, modern aesthetic and fresh, flavorful fare seems to have that effect on all of its devotees–like Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of my favorite writers at The Atlantic, who raved about Maoz in a recent blog post. The blogosphere has clearly spoken: Maoz is awesome.

Maoz Vegetarian

1817 M St. NW

Wahsington, D.C. 20036


Open M-Th 11a-11p, Fri-Sat 11a-3a

Maoz Vegetarian


New Hampshire Ave.

Snowball fight in Dupont Circle

Eerie snowmen

Not Your Average Diner

Luna Grill's whimsical interior

When I think of diner food, I picture greasy hamburgers, soggy french fries, and questionable chili followed by a nasty case of indigestion. Fortunately for me (and my dining companion), Luna Grill & Diner in Dupont Circle is not your typical diner.

When I first walked into Luna Grill, I was struck by the vibrant murals and eclectic artwork all over the walls. Tree branches hang down from the ceiling, perhaps in an attempt to add a whimsical, Midsummer Night’s Dream-esque touch to the place. The owners clearly made an effort to spruce up an otherwise small and uninteresting space, and in my opinion, they succeeded in their efforts.

Chicken panini & cream of mushroom soup

The main attraction at Luna Grill & Diner, however, is the surprisingly tasty food and affordable prices. I actually had difficulty choosing what to order, since most everything on the menu appealed to me. After debating over the chicken panini ($10. 95) and the hot meatball sub ($7.95), I decided to go with the chicken panini and a side of cream of mushroom soup (only $1.25 if ordered as a side with any sandwich or burger). The panini arrived fresh off the panini press, with the ciabatta bread perfectly crisped and melted mozzarella cheese and sundried tomato pesto oozing out of every bite. Juicy slices of tomato balanced out the richness of the pesto and cheese, and added some sweetness. The cream of mushroom soup was also delicious–a welcome respite from the cold winter weather outside.

The Alamo burger

My dining companion ordered the Alamo burger ($8.95), which includes bacon, cheddar, and BBQ sauce. The patty was thick, juicy, and pretty sizeable for a restaurant burger. Judging from the varying thickness and shapes of the fries, they were definitely hand-cut and freshly fried–a refreshing change from the cookie cutter, too thinly sliced McDonalds varieties.

Apple pie a la mode

Though extremely satisfied from our meal, we still managed to save room for dessert: apple pie a la mode ($3.95+$1.25 a la mode). This seemingly simple dessert had several layers of flavor and texture: the flaky buttery crust, the warm spiced apples, and the cold creamy vanilla ice cream, all made this the ultimate comfort dessert.

I will definitely come back to Luna Grill again, perhaps on a weeknight to try one of their scrumptious sounding Blue Plate Weekly Specials. If you’re tired of the same ol’ greasy diner fare, then head over to Luna Grill & Diner for some simple yet elegant twists on the diner concept!

Luna Grill & Diner

1301 Connecticut Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20009

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