Monday, May 30, 2011

Return to Kushi

We were in the area for a farewell gathering.  After networking for a few hours, we headed over for dinner at Kushi.  Walk-ins were placed at the u-shaped bar surrounding the robata grills.  A nice touch is the delivery of oshibori (wet towels) with glasses of water. 
 Gratis Amuse Bouche.  Sliver of salmon on coleslaw. 
Deepfried Liver.
 Kawa, chicken skin, yakitori, and deepfried chicken wing kushiage.
 Chicken thigh and chicken breast yakitori.  My boyfried prefers "shio" or salt instead of "tare" or sauce with his yakitori.
 This is a selection of three maki.  The tuna and avocado roll had rice that was bizarrely overcooked.  It was mushy.  The best of the selection was the ume-shiso maki, a roll of salted plum and shiso leaves.  The hamachi-scallion maki was not fresh, according to my boyfriend.  In reality, any sushi after my birthday dinner at Sushi Taro was going to be a disappointment.  This was more than a disappointment.
Kobe-style beef and pork belly skewers. 
We had gone to Kushi when it first opened last year, and enjoyed the atmosphere.  However, as a Japanese person, the overpriced menu items and disappointing sushi were an affront to my boyfriend.  True izakayas have a jovial and lively atmosphere, but they're traditionally small in size, and more of a drinking establishment with small snacks.  I appreciate the variety of sake and shochu by the glass or bottle, but these items have a serious markup.  I'll have to try out the ramen lunch specials at Sushi Taro and Kaz Sushi Bistro, but I won't be heading out in the area for sushi again for quite a while.

Il Porto in Old Town Alexandria

Il Porto's in Old Town Alexandria is an interesting Italian spot.  My boyfriend has been here before, but it was my first time, so we tried it together on Friday night.  It's the kind of old school Italian joint that includes a story on the back of the menu.  Apparently the building has a very colorful past, including serving as location of a "boarding" house, and home for former Nazis.
 We started off with some calamari with a robust tomato sauce.
 Next was a lovely and flavorful garlic and portabello mushroom starter.
 My boyfriend tried the sausage and spaghetti.
I ordered the Linguine Cardinale, a white wine clam sauce with shrimp. 
The only downside was the extremely auditorally ignorant group of bikers who sat nearby.  Amusingly, it was the smallest of the bikers who had the loudest voice.  Despite other nearby tables turning to look at the noisemakers, the conversational volume never diminished.

Harry's Burgers and BBQ in Pentagon City

Harry's Tap Room in Pentagon City has undergone a recent menu and concept alteration.  It made sense, since the clientele of the shopping center was more interested in fast-casual than the type of menu Harry's Tap Room offered.
Wedge Salad with bleu cheese dressing on the side. 
Harry's has a variety of burgers and bbq.  We tried the cheeseburger option with one grassfed and the other a regular Harry's burger.  No noticeable taste difference between the burgers, although the price point is still a bit on the high side.  Excellent fries.

Malaysia Kopitiam

While I had intended to spend my final day at my office going over orientation materials, it was not to be.  Fortunately my boss is very flexible about the beginning work date for my successor, since her current supervisor is a little less reasonable.  Instead, I headed over to lunch at nearby Kopitiam.
Sharing roti and ordering a curry laksa, I spent a leisurely lunch with a friend who could definitely use more sleep.   Unfortunately, the restaurant staff was a little overwhelmed by the lunch crowd and it took an extended period of time to get our check and change.  While I enjoy the food there, it's just not worth the hassle for lunch.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Taste of Arlington

Generally I enjoy outdoor food festivals.  It's a chance for restaurants to showcase their cuisine.  We tried Taste of Arlington this weekend.  With discount ticket deals from What's the Deal and Living Social, the crowds were unbelievable. 
Giant paella pan at Jaleo.
Smaller paella pans at La Tasca. 
Chicken and chorizo paella with asparagus.
Sangam's 2-ticket combination.
Chickpeas, butter chicken, saffron rice, mini vegetable samosas, chicken kebab and lamb kebab.
Bayou Bakery's snowball.
The chili from Willow was excellent, and a friend liked the braised shortrib from Pinzimini.  Some restaurants dishes were disappointing (honey donuts from Lebanese Taverna and mini cheeseburger from BGR).  Lines were ridiculously long, and this is not an event for the impatient.  It seemed pretty cruel that people brought their dogs to such a crowded venue, athough the Dalmatian-Chihuahua mix was super cute. 

Honey Pig Centerville

Saturday was sunny, beautiful and way too nice to stay indoors.  After a relaxing morning we mustered enough motivation to head out to Burke Lake park for a run.  Fairfax resident enter the park for free.  Non-Fairfax vehicles are charged $10 for entry.  We ran a circuit around the lake together, and then a second lap separately for a total of about 9 miles.  My erratic "interval training" pace was messing with my boyfriend's running zen. ;) Late afternoon the trail was rife with families and small children brandishing tree limbs, adding an element of danger.  It's really a beautiful spot, and I now understand why a friend loves running there Sunday mornings.
Afterwards, we drove through Clifton towards Centerville to one of our favorite post-workout activities:  Spa World.  I purchased two groupons back in March for reduced admission and we spent two blissful hours washing off the grime from the trail and relaxing sore muscles in the Bade pool, hot baths, cold bath and sauna/steam rooms.  Spa World was bustling with families and couples.  With a post-Spa World glow, we walked around the shopping center to the new Honey Pig.
The third Honey Pig outpost is located at 13818-B Braddock Rd., Centreville, VA 20121.  Opened in April, the service tended to be a little nicer than our last few visits to the Annandale HP and they sent out a few "service" or free items. 
 The ban chan are still lack luster compared to Vit Goel.
 Steam eggs dish.  Very fluffy.  This and a bowl of spicy miso soup were brought over as "service".
 Jumuluk (marinated shortribs) and Bulgogi (marinated beef) with grilled kimchee and bean sprouts (service).  The lady tending our grill saw my boyfriend put jalapeno slices and garlic on the grill, and she thoughfully brought over another small dish to add to the grill. 
The Bulgogi tasted like sukiyaki according to my bf.  Would have been delicious with a bowl of rice.  A bottle of Jinro soju and two Cass beers rounded out our dinner. 
I like that this location does not allow patrons to smoke cigarettes at the table.  It felt like more of a family establishment than the Annandale location.  We wondered how busy both Spa World and Honey Pig were during the week, since both are open 24/7.  One downside, the order of mandu never appeared.  Perhaps our waitress was saving us from gluttinous over-indulgence.

Full Kee Friday

It was the end of a busy week.  After a rollercoaster of emotions from debating car repairs or buying a new car, we were given a year's reprieve when my boyfriend's car passed inspection. Now we'll have more time to fully research different car options and make a better decision for our lifestyle, which is a huge relief.  We were driving home from work when we decided to have dinner at a different place, Full Kee Restaurant in Falls Church. 
 Even though the temperatures outside were pretty warm, we ordered two soups because they looked delicious.  Crab and asparagus soup for two ($14.95)
 Congee with preserved egg and roast pork ($6.25)
My boyfriend loves congee, and he's disappointed when the dim sum restaurants in NoVA and MD do not offer any.  It had a very nice flavor and was a very comforting food.
 Panfried pork dumplings ($3.50)
Good flavor and the dumpling wrappers had a nice chew.
 Spicy fried head-on shrimp ($14.95).
I always think that I'll like this dish more than I actually do.
Half Roast Duck ($16.95)
Served very differently than at PGI, this was chunks of duck with bones.  Great flavor but a bit fatty.
It was nice to see large Asian families gathered at the restaurant sharing a meal together.  We ordered a lot of food, and should have included a vegetable dish instead of the shrimp.  Using prudence, we had the leftovers packed up for breakfast where I included a dish of Korean squash.  The decor is nice and bright, and the space felt less cramped than Peking Gourmet Inn.  Full Kee is a Cantonese place at heart and I would skip the Hunan specials or regular Chinese-American dishes and venture towards the duck or any of the seafood specials.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Plaka Grill in Vienna

The food critics have both written nice things about this tiny Greek spot out in Vienna.  Until my friends bought a house in the area and our hang out locale shifted eastward, I had little reason to venture out that way.  With a bun in the proverbial oven, our normal sushi adventure was out, and we headed for lunch at Plaka Grill.  This is not going to help me get ready for pool season, but it was satisfying and reasonably priced.
Dip Sampler ($7)
Kalamata olive tapenade, hummus, taramosalata, tzatziki sauce, tyrokafteri (spicy feta and peppers).
Loved the taramosalata, very light and delicious with the soft pita wedges.
Chicken Souvlaki sandwich.
Plaka Gyro with fries stuffed inside.
Marinated pork in the Plaka gyro.
Chicago Gyro.
This is the gyro I'm more familiar with sliced lamb-beef meat.
The staff was really nice and they bring your order to you at the table.  I never know how much to leave them in the tip jar in this situation.  If I lived nearby, I'd definitely do carryout.  Next time we go to visit, hopefully Church's pizza will be on the docket. 

El Pollo Ranchero

We've been investigating food options around our new place.  Further down Richmond Highway are the usual chain restaurant suspects.  There's also a Krispy Kreme store whose neon glow speaks sweet sweet nothings to my boyfriend.  Feeling unmotivated to cook something on a Friday night, we headed out to a long-time favorite of my boyfriends, El Pollo Ranchero
Pupusas ($1.50 each) 
Cheese and Pulled Pork.  Since they had a constant stream of take-out customers, we were told our chicken would take 30-40 minutes.  We had cold beers and chips with salsa, plus pupusas to keep us happy.
1/2 chicken with salad and rice.
While I had ordered black beans and fries, and the boyfriend asked for rice and salad with a side of fries, we were both brought matching plates.  Maybe our server was trying to save us from ourselves?  Nice flavor on the chicken, forgettable fries.  Great spicy green sauce.  We packed up half the chicken each, so this was not as gluttinous as our normal Friday dinners out.  Reminded me of Brook's chicken from my childhood in upstate New York.  There's something magical about the marinade and the charcoal flavor. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Catching up with the Traveling Yogi

My friend has been teaching Ashtanga yoga classes for the last five years.  It's remarkable to hear that it has been that long already, since it feels like yesterday that we were taking classes together in Georgetown.  She found her passion on the mat, and has traveled to Mysore, India for the past three years to deepen her practice, as well as earn authorization from the founder's grandson to teach Ashtanga.  So proud of her!  She's also probably the smartest person I know, escaping the cold and dismal DC winters each year for hot and sunny India. 
She's finally back in the area, and I had a chance to catch up with her over dinner at Pizzeria Paradiso in Dupont.  It's lovely to spend a relaxing meal talking with a good friend and I'm glad she's back in the area.
 We shared a Insalata Paradiso.
Followed by a large Bosco.  The pie was great, not soupy and soggy crust, with just the right amount of mozzarella and good vegetables.

All Topsy-Turvy

It's the end of an era.  The initial elation has worn off, and now I've got my head down and trudging through the last few miles before I start a new adventure.  I finally achieved my post-MBA step-up, and will leave the magical position that appeared so fortuitously when I returned from working in Japan.  I'm truly thankful to have so much support; especially my boyfriend, he's my biggest cheerleader, and Big J who gave me the motivational pep talk I needed before my final interview.  I'm doing my best to find a person who will see what a growth opportunity this job is and take good care of my kind Japanese coworkers.  Wish me luck!
After receiving the verbal offer, my boyfriend and I went out to celebrate.  We headed over to a favorite, Sichuan Pavilion.
 Pork Dumplings in Sichuan Sauce ($3.95)
 Small Fish with Peanuts ($6.95).
Salty and spicy, really nice with a cold beer.
 Mabo Tofu ($9.95)
Soft, silky tofu in a spicy sauce.  Nice and saucy with just the right amount of heat.
 Steamed Pork in spicy red sauce ($12.95)
Very fiery hot, and the pork had a soft texture due to the cooking process.
Eight Treasure Noodle Soup ($9.95)
Weakest dish of the bunch.  Spicy broth with chicken, pork, shrimp and vegetables with egg noodles.  We should have ordered a vegetable dish instead.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mapo Tofu at Home

Ok, I cheated.  I bought a sauce packet from Super H.  I'd like to curtail the use of high sodium products in our meals, but let's face it, when I leave work at 7 pm and arrive home after 8 pm, I need all the shortcuts I can employ to have dinner on the table before 9:30 pm.  Dietitians would be shaking their heads in disdain that we eat dinner after 8 pm, but working late is a reality for us.
 While this was the "hot" variety, it was really fairly mild and required the addition of a liberal amount of red pepper flakes.
Grilled jalapenos, grilled Chinese eggplant, mabo-dofu on rice.
The Chinese and Japanese eggplants are long and slender, with a thinner skin, more delicate flavor and less bitter than the American varietal.  While you can add minced pork or beef to the mapo sauce, I liked this without any meat and paired with the eggplant it was a satisfying meat-free dinner.

Healthy Dinner

We asked the nice men at Super H's fish counter to clean and fillet a whole fish for us.  After picking out one and weighing it, he went off to a counter to rapidly debone and fillet the fish.  For a few cents more, this seems like a good deal. 
 Sauteed rainbow chard with garlic and lemon with pan-seared fluke fillets topped with a cilantro-mint-garlic-jalapeno sauce.
Pasta with corn and zucchini topped with gruyere cheese.
Rainbow chard tastes similar to spinach when sauteed.  The stems should be treated like asparagus.  Full of Vitamins K, A, E and C; fiber, iron, potassium and manganese, chard varieties are a great addition to our meals.  Fluke is also known as summer flounder and is a pretty delicate white flaky fish.  A key to this meal is portion size.  I plate the fish and chard on a salad plate, giving the illusion of a large amount of food. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Greek Deli Lunch

If you work in the Golden Triangle area near Farragut West, Farragut North and south Dupont, chances are you've walked by a mysterious line snaking out from a doorway next to Nooshi on 19th Street.  The Greek Deli is a carryout only breakfast and lunch establishment run by Kostas Fostieris.  While the line is daunting when it snakes out the door and down the sidewalk, it moves fairly quickly.  I've tried the spanakopita and a stuffed chicken breast platter, but my go-to order is the gyro sandwich.  Today my boyfriend headed over to pick up lunch.  Since he's awesome, he took some photos for me :)
 Waiting in line.
 Lunch specials.
Meatball Platter with orzo, green beans, salad and fresh bread.
Usually the Greek meatballs are soaked in a lemon-butter-dill sauce, not a red sauce.  I'm not sure what my boyfriend got, but it wasn't the special lemon butter meatballs and he probably should have ordered the lamb.  For him to say it was a lot of food and he didn't finish it, is proof that portions are massive.  If you were strategic, you could make this into two meals.

BGR Redux

The boyfriend had never been to BGR.  He's not a fan of Ray's Hellburger and he's not interested in "fancy meat sandwiches".  We tried the Alexandria BGR location after our run to the airport and back.  After placing our order and paying at the cash register to a fairly surly staff member, we were handed a pager and sent off to the fancy soda machine and its multitude of choices.  Even with all the choices, he still came back with a classic Coke. :) Old Town has a larger space than Dupont and we were able to find a relatively clean table.  When the buzzer lights up, it's time to go back to the counter and pick up our order.
 The Wellington
Carmelized onions, mushrooms, blue cheese and mojo sauce.  The burger was not the requested medium-rare, and the overcooking meant a fairly dry, tasteless meat patty.  With the blue cheese under the burger bottom and the mushroom-onion mixture on top, the blue cheese did not overwhelm the rest of the flavors.  Still dislike the bun.  Final kvetch, there was no mojo on this "fancy meat sandwich", sauce or otherwise.
While the onion rings had a nice crunch, they arrived lukewarm.  Thumbs down.
 What was supposed to be a double patty with bacon, lettuce and tomato.
Looking closer, it was clearly missing the second patty.  Brought the mix up to the attention of the grill guys, and they fairly quickly remedied the situation.
Burger was requested medium, but one patty was more medium-rare. 
This was definitely a juicier burger concoction.  Better flavor with a char from the grill taste.  Fries were average and semi-cold.
For $33 for two burgers, onion rings, fries and two fountain drinks, BGR is a fairly expensive fast-casual burger experience.  At this price point, you expect a better burger, or at least the correct order and hot fries. While the boyfriend admits it's a better burger than Five Guys, it's doubtful he'd return.