Tag Archives: Virginia

First-Class Wine Flights at the Tasting Room

One of the (many) perks of being a food blogger is that I am able to discover some of the city’s best kept dining secrets, ranging from an underground tasting menu to a greasy spoon diner going organic. And yesterday, I was treated to a blogger cocktail party at a newly opened wine bar in Friendship Heights, called The Tasting Room. Tucked into a discreet corner of The Shops at Wisconsin Place, The Tasting Room is a hidden gem boasting top-notch wine and high-tech service that will appeal to both serious wine aficionados and newcomers looking to for a fun way to taste several varieties of wine.

The Tasting Room is an extension of Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, VA. Owned by former president and owner of the NFL Washington Redskins, John Kent Cooke spared no expense on developing both the winery and the tasting room. (Fun fact: Jack Kent Cooke, John’s father, also used to own the LA Lakers and LA Kings!) Cooke installed state-of-the-art equipment at the winery, bought certified grapevines from France, and hired prominent winemaker Stephane Derenoncourt as a consultant. He hopes to put Virginia wine on the map with his Bordeaux-style blends.

Like the winery, The Tasting Room seems to be an expensive, technologically-impressive venture. It has a sleek, almost futuristic aesthetic, with dark walls, minimalist lighting, and a silver circular machine near the center of the room (pictured above). That machine, stocked with several bottles of wine, is an Enomatic, the latest wine dispenser system cropping up at bars across DC. But in contrast to other bars, The Tasting Room allows patrons to dispense the wine themselves, allowing for a more personalized process. Customers upload money to a card, and insert the card into the machine. Each wine can be poured by the taste ($2-4), half a glass ($5-9), or a full glass ($5-25). The simple press of a button results in a perfect pour.  

Whites and reds from all over the world are available for tasting. “We want customers to be able to compare Boxwood Wines with others and show that ours are just as good–or even better,” explained Sean Martin, who manages the site. Boxwood produces three wines: a dry rosé, Boxwood (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot blend), and Topiary (a Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend). To me, the appeal of the system is that you can try as many (or as little) wines as you’d like–without maxing out your credit card. I tried about 10 wines, and the total was only $18.

I don’t claim to be a wine expert by any means (though I did take Cornell’s infamous wine tasting course!), but I enjoyed several of the wines I tasted. In particular, the 2007 Brandborg Gewürztraminer and 2006 Brooks Riesling were my favorite whites. The Gewürz was spicy and aromatic, and the Riesling was floral and sweet. For the reds, I was a fan of 2008 Neudorf Pinot Noir, 2007 Finca Sandoval Syrah/Mourvedre/Bobal, and the Boxwood 2007  Topiary. The Pinot had nice tannins and cherry flavor; the syrah blend was smooth and light for a syrah; and the Topiary was fruity and round with soft tannins.

The Tasting Room’s food menu is a bit short, when compared to its long wine list. It consists of cheese plates, hummus, charcuterie, and a couple desserts. For the blogger cocktail party, though, The Tasting Room provided the cheese (photo above) while M Cafe, located just across the street, provided the rest of the refreshments.

Grilled Mediterranean lamb sausages with spicy black ketchup were absolutely delicious and packed a lot flavor into one small bite. Ahi tuna tartar with hass avocado, toasted sesame seeds and meyer lemon on toasted brioche tasted light and fresh, and paired well with a few of the white wines. Also on the menu were jumbo lump crab meat, english cucumbers, and manila mango in a parmesan crisp roll–a colorful dish, but not my favorite. I found the crab meat paired with the parmesan crisp overwhelmingly salty, which buried the flavor and freshness of the cucumber and mango.

My favorite dish of the night was the mini sliders with braised duck confit, mission figs, and aged balsamic syrup. The duck was braised to perfection: tender and not at all fatty or greasy like other versions I’ve had. And I will admit, I am a sucker for anything with figs–and these figs were fresh and ripe as can be. The dish paired nicely with the Boxwood Topiary as well.

The event was a success, and I am grateful to The Tasting Room for the invite. And while I wish some the dishes I tasted that night were on the regular menu (or more dishes in general, perhaps), I do think the serve-yourself idea is a fun and new concept that I haven’t seen in other wine bars. Next time you’re shopping in Friendship Heights and find yourself in dire need of a drink, head over to The Tasting Room and sample some of their fabulous wines!

The Tasting Room at Wisconsin Place

5330-A Western Ave.

Chevy Chase, MD 20850

(301) 664-9494

Other locations in Reston Town Center and Downtown Middleburg

The Tasting Room Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

M Cafe

The Collection at Chevy Chase

5471 Wisconsin Ave.

Chevy Chase, MD 20815

(301) 986-4818

M Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Photos courtesy of Catherine Coughlin and The Tasting Room

Rebel Heroes: A Brilliant Concept

Before the blistering heat set in, I headed to Court House for lunch at the critically acclaimed Rebel Heroes food truck. Tim Carman of  Washington City Paper called Rebel Heroes “the best food truck on the streets” and The Washington Post featured it in its “Good to Go” column. After all the positive press, I set out to try Rebel Heroes with expectations set pretty high.

Unfortunately, I think my expectations were set way too high. I ordered the roast pork bahn mi ($5.50) and Vietnamese iced coffee ($3.00). There were a lot of things I liked about the bahn mi: the bread was crusty enough to stand up to the fillings, the pork had nice flavor, and the pickled daikon and carrots added a fresh, tangy finish. But in the end, there was something missing for me. I would have enjoyed more pork and even other cured meats and pates in the sandwich. And a few more jalepenos and cilantro to add more heat.

I did enjoy the Vietnamese iced coffee, which had just the right balance of sweetness from the condensed milk and velvety chocolate notes from the coffee–it actually reminded me of a grown-up version of chocolate milk!

Though I wasn’t blown away by their bahn mi, I still liked Rebel Heroes a lot and would love to go back to try some of their other subs (like the “Che-che-chicken” which I hear is outstanding). I think the concept is brilliant, considering the lack of decent bahn mi in DC/Arlington. And since I can’t drive all the way to Eden Center every time I have a craving for bahn mi, I’m grateful to Rebel Heroes (and mother-daughter team Ninh and Tan Nguyen, who admirably prepare everything from scratch) for saving me the hassle.

Plus, with sandwiches costing no more than $6.00 and exotic drinks like Vietnamese iced coffee, Jarritos Mexican soda, and coconut water, Rebel Heroes offers affordable street food options that differ from those of any other food truck in the area. Here’s to hoping they decide to venture into DC proper soon!

Follow @rebelheroes on Twitter or visit their website to find out where Rebel Heroes will be serving next!

Rebel Heroes (Food Cart) on Urbanspoon

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Veritable Vietnamese at Minh’s

The Washingtonian’s Cheap Eats Guide might be eating away at my relationship. Since its arrival, I’ve annotated the entire thing, drawing big stars next to the restaurants I’m dying to try and ranking them in order of which ones I’ll go to first. And every weekend without fail, I drive my boyfriend crazy by agonizing over where we should eat. Are we in the mood for El Salvadorian pizza? Or what about Afghan kabobs? Or Tunisian brika? An hour of this usually goes by before we start arguing and he exclaims out of exasperation, “Just decide already!”

But last Saturday, after braving the heat during the Caribbean parade and wolfing down some of the spiciest jerk chicken around, a miracle happened. When dinnertime rolled around, I knew exactly what I wanted to eat–Vietnamese. And I knew just the place, which I had circled and starred in my sacred Cheap Eats guide: Minh’s, a Vietnamese restaurant near Court House which the Washingtonian described as “masterful with a fryer and deft with rice and noodles.”

Located on the bottom floor of an office building, Minh’s is pretty unassuming from the exterior. The interior reminded me of a 1980s Asian-style hotel ballroom, with floral silk covered chandeliers and white table cloths. The atmosphere was pleasant, with several table occupied by families and friends catching up on each other’s lives and sharing Minh’s excellent Vietnamese cuisine.

We started off with the shrimp cakes ($7.25), which contrary to my initial assumption, are not actually cakes at all. They’re fritters of whole shrimp interspersed with shredded yam and potato, deep fried to a golden crisp–miraculously without a trace of grease. The accompanying fish sauce and greens (lettuce, mint leaves, and cilantro)–a hallmark of Vietnamese cuisine–added sweetness and freshness to the dish. My recommendation is wrapping the fritters in the greens, like a burrito, and dipping it all in the fish sauce–absolutely delicious.

For our main courses, we ordered grilled shrimp and pork with thin noodles ($12.75) and lemongrass chicken ($11.50). The pork and shrimp absorbed the smoky, earthy flavor of the charcoal and was tempered, once again, by the accompanying greens and fish sauce. The noodles provided a nice chewiness and starch to the dish. Plus, it was certainly enough for 2 people to share, especially considering we still had another course to go!

The lemongrass chicken was, simply put, to die for. Cooked slowly in a clay pot, the chicken absorbed the complex, layered flavors of the marinade. Though the kitchen wouldn’t reveal the ingredients in their exquisite marinade, I detected soy sauce for saltiness, fish sauce for sweetness, lemongrass (obviously) for aroma, and red pepper flakes for heat (and there’s probably more ingredients that my inexperienced palate couldn’t discern).

My favorite part of the dish, however, had to be the onions. They soaked up the marinade even more so than the chicken, and tasted like they had been drowned in the most delectable nectar of the gods–I’m telling you, they were that good, especially over steamed white rice!

Since every course at dinner was fantastic, we decided to ignore our widening belt lines and order dessert. The kitchen ran out of our first choice–banana flambe over vanilla ice cream–so we opted for sweet mango sticky rice with coconut milk and mango ($5.00). Sadly, that was a mistake. The rice was more hard than sticky, and the coconut milk had no flavor. The fresh mango was the dish’s only saving grace.

Despite this disappointing end, the meal was on the whole superb. Minh’s affordable prices, vibrant Vietnamese cuisine, and vast menu (which includes over 100 items!) make it a destination that DC foodies won’t want to miss. And even though it’s crossed off my list, and there’s still more Washingtonian Cheap Eats restaurants left to check out, I won’t argue with going back for another meal at Minh’s.

Minh’s Restaurant

2500 Wilson Blvd.

Arlington, VA 22201

(703) 525-2828

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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!

Saturday

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.

Sunday

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

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Sensory Overload at Honey Pig

Sensory overload is really the only way to describe Honey Pig, the popular 24-hour Korean BBQ restaurant in Annandale, VA. The second you walk through the door, Korean pop and Top 40 music blasts from the speakers. Waiters rush out of the kitchen with platters of raw meat and boiling pots of kimchi soup. Busboys clean off tables and throw dirty plates into carts at lightning speed, nearly crashing into the customers waiting for the table.  It’s loud, crowded, and disorganized, and there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to getting a table. (Even though there is a host who keeps a list, it seemed to me that he just chose at random who to seat–or the more savvy patrons just sat themselves while he wasn’t looking.) Through all the chaos, hungry diners can see, hear and smell the delicious sizzle of meats hitting the grill.

The main attraction at Honey Pig is the wide selection of Korean BBQ, expertly grilled at your table by one of the many adept Korean waitresses. This isn’t the refined, haute Korean-fusion cuisine you’d find at David Chang’s Momofuku Ko; it’s more the comforting, tasty food that Korean moms are so good at effortlessly whipping up. We started off with kalbi–beef spareribs marinated in soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. At $21.99, it was one of the most expensive dishes on the menu, but totally worth it. The meat was juicy and tender, and I found myself gnawing on the bones, trying to savor every last bite.

Next came the pork belly and pork neck ($12.99 each). Both were sparingly seasoned, but full of rich, smoky flavor. The pork belly was cooked to just the right crispiness, with a nice crunch at the outset that dissolved into luscious fat. I was a bit mortified to see just how much fat dripped into the pan (and didn’t even want to think about how much fat I had just imbibed), but hey, you have indulge once in a while, right?

Other dishes were less memorable. Dumplings ($6.99) were all right, but a tad to greasy for my taste. The meat-and-vegetable filling was also a bit bland. The scallion pancake ($6.99) didn’t stand out either. I found it starchy and just monotonous to eat. The meal also came with rice and banchan, which are traditional Korean side dishes. At some Korean restaurants, the banchan is the star, with tons of different offerings from spinach cooked in sesame oil to steamed sweet potatoes to kimchi that could constitute a meal in itself; that’s not the case at Honey Pig.

Next time I go to Honey Pig (which I hope will be very soon), I’ll stick with the meat offerings and perhaps one of the steaming bowls of kimchi jigae (kimchi stew with tofu). And of course, a couple bottles of soju (Korea’s answer to vodka) to wash it all down and get in the mood for some karaoke at the bar next door.

Honey Pig

7220-C Annandale Pike

Annandale, VA 22003

703-256-5229

Open 24 hours

Honey Pig (Gooldaegee) on Urbanspoon

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Weekend Round-Up

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Not many foodie events this weekend, so this week’s weekend round-up will be short:

Saturday

Beltway BBQ Showdown: I’ve already lamented about the lack of good BBQ in DC, which is precisely why I’m excited for this event. From noon-5 p.m. at Watkins Regional Park in Maryland, the best grillers on the East Coast will compete for a spot at the American Royal Barbecue Contest. Watch them in action, and maybe if you’re lucky, you might snag a sample of ribs, pork, and beef. See the Going Out Gurus for more info.

EatBar’s Beach Blanket Bash: Arlington residents don’t even have to leave the city to go to the beach this weekend. From 1-4 p.m., EatBar hosts its Beach Blanket Bash–complete with surf music (I’m thinking some Beach Boys?), beach balls, and a wine tasting featuring 25 wines. And of course, the menu will be beach-themed as well, with plenty of seafood. Go to The Washingtonian for more info or call the restaurant at 703-778-9951 for reservations. $25/person

Dance Africa DC: Free outdoor African dance performances and an African street market featuring food, crafts, art, clothing, and a children’s tent will be held on Saturday and Sunday at the Dance Place Studio. Sounds like a fun way to learn more about African culture! Click here for more info and thanks to Price of Petworth for pointing this out.

Sunday

Complimentary Brunch and Silent Auction Fundraiser: Who ever said there’s no such thing as a free meal? This Sunday from 11:00a.m.-2:00p.m., Stroga in Adams Morgan hosts a complimentary brunch and silent auction to raise money for volunteers heading to Haiti. Participation in the silent auction is encouraged, but not mandatory. Stroga has one of the largest and most beautiful spaces around, so it’d definitely be worth stopping by to see the sights, grab a muffin, and maybe help a good cause. See Free in DC for more details.

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Silver Diner: Not a Greasy Spoon Anymore

I will admit that I’m somewhat of a food snob. On our first date, I warned my boyfriend that if Chili’s or McDonalds was our destination, he would almost certainly be dining alone that night (luckily for both him and me, he hadn’t chosen either of those places). I avoid chain restaurants like the plague, opting for local joints instead. My food elitism is precisely why, when I received an invitation to attend a menu sampling at the Silver Diner, I hesitated at first. I thought to myself, “A chain greasy spoon? No way.”

But when I read the invitation more closely, I was intrigued. The event was slated to unveil Silver Diner’s newly launched Fresh and Local menu to the DC blogger community. I’m a sucker for anything with the words “fresh” and “local” in the title, so I decided to check out the event with my friend Jen, of Fresh Cracked Pepper.

The evening proved once again that you should never judge a book by its cover. My skepticism was proven wrong, and Jen and I came away with mostly positive impressions of Silver Diner’s new initiatives. The event began with introductions from owner Bob Giaimo and Head Chef Ype Von Hengst (pictured above). Giaimo discussed the rationale behind revamping Silver Diner’s menu and his decision to go the fresh and local route. He explained that after a month of conducting focus groups with Silver Diner customers, he discovered an overwhelming demand for fresh and local cuisine. More importantly, he found that diners were willing to pay more for locally sourced ingredients–compensating for the additional costs that the Diner would incur.

Chef Ype then presented the new menu offerings. Having grown up near a farm in Holland, where his mother brought him along to buy fresh milk and vegetables, he is passionate about bringing local ingredients to the Silver Diner. The first round of tastings included a summer citrus salad, chopped asian salad, and a variety of sliders (salmon, pesto turkey, hamburger, tomato mozzarella).

Chef Ype boasted that the strawberries (in the citrus salad) arrived in the restaurant that morning from a farm in Delaware. They certainly brightened up an otherwise run-of-the-mill salad. I also enjoyed the salmon and turkey burger sliders: both were served on whole wheat buns (sourced from a local bakery) and tasted juicy and tender.

Next, Chef Ype served the entrees (as if the surfeit of sliders and salads weren’t enough!): 600 calorie smothered BBQ meatloaf, 600 calorie vegetarian noodle stir fry, gluten free shrimp scampi with Maryland goat cheese and locally grown asparagus, brown rice with edamame, and guacamole pepperjack burger (which used hormone-free ground beef).

The guac burger was delicious: the patty was cooked with a perfectly pink center, and the addition of avocado, cheese, and bacon pushed the burger over the top–in a good way. The shrimp scampi, made with gluten free brown rice flour pasta, was also surprisingly good–and not an entree you’d expect to see at a diner. The earthy asparagus, along with the tangy Maryland goat cheese, added color and sophistication to the dish. The only dish that I wasn’t a fan of was the noodle stir fry (though I do applaud Chef Ype for using whole wheat pasta). The teriyaki sauce was a bit cloying for my taste.

Of course, I couldn’t leave without sampling some dessert: apple pie, chocolate cake, and a gluten free brownie sundae (sorry, no photo of the sundae available). The desserts were decent, but a tad too sweet for my taste. I did enjoy those fresh, juicy Delaware strawberries, which made another appearance atop the apple pie.

The night ended with some fabulous complimentary gift baskets, which included fresh bunches of asparagus, more of those delicious strawberries, Greenberry’s coffee, a Silver Diner mug, and 2 bottles of Virginia-brewed beer.

I think Silver Diner’s Fresh and Local menu is quite admirable. Yes, “fresh,” “local,” and “organic” have become buzzwords in the food community, and there are many restaurants out there that just slap on those labels without doing the legwork. But Silver Diner is not one of those establishments.

After listening to Bob Giaimo and Chef Ype, it’s clear they have done extensive research and found the best local ingredients they can afford: asparagus and strawberries from Delaware, hormone free beef from New Jersey, eggs from Lancaster County, PA, and locally baked buns. Some would argue these locales are not local enough. But in my opinion, that’s close enough and still way better than buying strawberries from, say, Mexico. And, perhaps most importantly, the food is tasty: not all the dishes were winners, but overall, I was very satisfied with my meal.

Head over to the Silver Diner in Clarendon to try their new Fresh and Local menu for yourselves! (The menu will be implemented at other Silver Diner locations soon.) I’m sure you’ll be surprised, like I was, to find that it’s not your typical greasy spoon anymore.

Silver Diner Clarendon

3200 Wilson Blvd.

Arlington, VA 22201

703-812-8600

Silver Diner on Urbanspoon

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