Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cooking at Home

Tried out a jar of hot and sour paste from one of the Asian grocery stores, and this Tom Yum paste was really extraordinary. Definitely need to pick up another jar soon, since this makes a nice change of pace from miso soup and my soon dubu .
 Tom Yum Tofu Soup with scallions, cilantro, bean sprouts, mushrooms, carrots, onions, cabbage and a bell pepper is delicious.
Japanese Vegetable Curry with Udon Noodles
With some defrosted leftover Japanese curry, the addition of some onion, carrot and potato helped perk up the curry. Japanese curry is great with rice, or alongside a fried pork cutlet (tonkatsu), or with udon noodles. Although I've made versions in the past with beef or chicken, I actually prefer the all vegetable curry the best.

Dig the Pig

We got our influenza shots this week. My fiance's office building management is really stellar and set up a special day offering in-building flu shots for $30. His company offered $25 reimbursement for flu shots, and fortunately mine offers $30 reimbursement. It was nice to go together, and since we're both pretty bad sick patients, hopefully this added precaution will help us navigate the cold and flu system this year. With the first snowfall occurring in October, this is setting up to be a long winter. Feeling the effects of the shot, we headed to an early dinner at Honeypig after work. 
After a brief wait, we were led to a table in the back. While Honeypig does not have the best service for non-Korean speaking patrons, this was worse than normal. We were left sitting there for almost 15 minutes before someone came over to take our order. The saving grace was the non-Korean assistants who brought over water and the assorted panchan.
 Hamul Pajeon
There must be a new cook manning the pajeon orders, this version was a bit different than previous renditions. It was good, but still doesn't touch the Lighthouse Tofu hamul pajeon.
 Soon Dubu
Excellent version, a little spicier, and super hearty on a colder autumn evening.
The cooking style includes using cooking scissors to cut up the pieces of meat.
Korean is my fiance's second favorite food after Japanese. If we had better and less expensive Japanese restaurants near us, we probably would not have had so many dining adventures trying out the area's Korean restaurants. It's nice to grill the meat on the tabletop in front of us, although it's not quite like yakiniku. I like the spicy pork belly with grilled kimchee and bean sprouts, but he feels like it's not really bbq if it's not beef. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Wednesday nights at Screwtop, select bottles of wine are discounted $10. This week, Italian wines were on special. With a lovely red, I caught up with two of my Arlingtonian friends, one also engaged in October, and one I hope to hear becomes engaged shortly. Screwtop really is a cute place, with some fantastic cheese selections to accompany the wine. 
 Baked Goat with chutney and toasted baguette.
Really formidable warm chevre cheese rolled in Herbs de Provence, with a great chutney spread. Fantastic along with the red wine. This was great to share.
BBQ Beef Sliders
Great brioche buns topped with braised beef and Texas-style bbq sauce.
BBQ Beef Quesadilla
Braised beef with carmelized onions, a mixture of cheese and grilled on a pannini press. 
Screwtop's a cute place, I just wish it wasn't so far away from my new apartment. Every time I go to Screwtop, I love the cheese plates and wine, but forget to eat anything more substantial. Maybe a nice crudites and dip plate would be a good addition. I was temped by the macaroni and cheese, although that would be a bit of cheese overkill after the goat. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reading Terminal and DiNics

After a leisurely morning sleeping in, we checked out of the hotel and walked over to Reading Terminal so we could indulge in a roast pork sandwich from DiNics. Reading Terminal hosts a variety of food counters and food stalls.
 Remarkable seafood counter
Wished we lived closer, there were some very fresh fish and very good prices.
 Oooh shrimp 
 New Orleans-Inspired Food Counter
Witness the brown bags from Sarcone's bakery full of delicious bread both soft on the inside and a nice crust on the outside.
 Roast Pork with provolone and broccoli rabe $8.
 The pork is full of juicy wonderfulness, and the slightly bitter garlicky greens with sharp provolone bite was excellent. The sheer amount of debris/gravy makes this a sandwich that would not travel well.
Old City Coffee
We stopped by to grab two cups of coffee for the drive home. Great flavor, robust but not bitter, they roast their beans in small batches.

Post-Pumpkins Show in Philly

We traveled to Philadelphia for see a Smashing Pumpkins show. My fiance has loved the band since the inception with the original band members of Jimmy Chamberlain, Darcy and James Iha. Very good show, with a mixture of old and new songs, and it was a wonderful weekend escape. After the show, we returned to our hotel, conveniently located near Reading Terminal and ate in the hotel's restaurant 13.
 Turkey Club with fries
Good, but it's no Axian Club A sandwich.
 Caesar Salad
Spicy BBQ Wings
These had clearly been cooked ages before, and were a bit dry, but the sauce was nice and picante...unfortunately I would have enjoyed a little more of it. The waiter was kind, despite being at the end of a very long shift, and it was good to eat something after the show.

Vit Goel aka Lighthouse Tofu Restaurant

With few groceries in the refrigerator, we went to dinner in Annandale before our weekend trip to Philly. We had not been to Vit Goel in awhile and it seemed like a good time to return. We arrived to a super busy restaurant that appeared and remained understaffed the duration of our meal. Took a long time to have someone stop by to take our order, and an even longer time for our soon dubu to arrive after our hamul pajeon. Thankfully, the food was excellent as always.
 Hamul Pajeon, Small
Chunks of seafood and scallions in a pancake. Nice and crispy, excellent flavor and just the right size to share for two people.
 Assorted pan chan helped stave off hunger in between arrival of our meal.
Bubbling and spicy delight
I chose the mushroom version, which was excellent. After eating 1/3, I packed up the rest for a great breakfast the next morning. My boy went with a seafood combination, also spicy, and enjoyed every spoonful.

Fantastic Friday Lunch

One of the best parts of working only one block away from each other, is the opportunity to meet my fiance for lunch. We met up at International Square and picked up takeout from Sichuan Express. While he chose a favorite, the shrimp noodle soup with bamboo and edamame, I tried out something new.
Pork noodle soup with bamboo, mustard greens and edamame.
This version had a smokey essence to the broth, although the rest of the components were similar to the shrimp noodle soup. Delicious, and definitely recommended. Best part, spending a relaxed lunchtime with my favorite guy.

Rustico on Slaters Lane

After a whirlwind trip to Miami for a conference, I met up with my sweet boy after work. Waking up at 5 am to provide enough time to drop off the rental car and navigate the airport, I was too exhausted to think about what to cook for dinner.  Instead, we headed to Rustico on the way home.  I haven't been there for ages. We were fortunate to be sat relatively quickly. That, and the responsive server were the highlights of the meal.
 Pizza with sausage, red pepper and roasted mushrooms.
Crust was very thin, perhaps overcooked. The toppings were tasty but the cardboard texture and taste of the crust left me underwhelmed.
Braised Pork Shank
This was way overcooked. Even with the sharp knife, it was difficult to cut through. After attracting the notice of our server, he swiftly remedied the overcooked pork without hassle. He brought out another plate, the meat fell off the bone and was very good. 
We won't be rushing back anytime soon for a meal, but the quality of the service and the extensive beer selection are tempting to give another shot in the future. 

Creativity with Desserts

With some extra puff pastry, I fulfilled my fiance's craving for an ultimate dessert. Toasted marshmallows, chocolate and dark cherry jam with puff pastry. Along with a cup of coffee, a super sweet treat for my sweet boy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Engagement Dinner

We're not traditional people, we take a little bit of American culture and a little bit of Japanese culture and meld it into something new. However, my pre-engagement request was for my boyfriend to call to my dad and ask for permission. Despite his apprehension he successfully talked to my dad, got his blessing and proposed later in the day. (^o^) 
Eschewing the fancy dinner out, I felt like cooking something at home to celebrate the next step in our lives. We started out with some J cuvee sparkling wine and juicy strawberries.
 Zucchini and red onion tart
Tofu, vegetable nabe with fish balls.
Super excited to share the news with family and friends, I hope to stay relatively stress-free in figuring out how, when and where we'll get married. Wish me luck in reining in demands for an elaborate wedding. 

Daniel O'Connells in Old Town

Debating what to eat and where to go for dinner, my boyfriend is usually wary of "trap doors", where he suggests something but I've already set my mind to something I haven't expressed yet. The other night, I was in the mood for mashed potatoes, not bbq in DC, so we tried out a closer by restaurant. Located right in the heart of the touristy part of Old Town, we arrived right when they were starting to get their evening dinner rush. Fortunately we found space at the bar to wait, sipping a pint of Guinness and watching Wales v. France rugby game. The nice hostess found us and led us to a comfortable and secluded booth, perfect for people-watching yet quiet enough to enjoy a conversation.
 The Cheese Plate
Truly a great assortment with port cheese, Guinness cheese, boursin and a brie cheese, with dried fruits and nuts and crackers. 
 Buffalo Chicken Wings
Nice and spicy sauce with a piquant blue cheese dressing.
 Rack of Lamb Ribs
With baby carrots, broccoli and rich mashed potatoes. He loved this dish.
Waitress-recommended Bangers and Mash.
The sausages are deep fried, and the mashed potatoes are swashed in a rich gravy. Really a super hearty dish, we were only able to muddle through half of our dishes and half of the starters. We boxed up the remains for another meal. 
This is the first restaurant in ages that my boyfriend really loved, and for that reason alone, I'm happy to add it to our dining rotation along with Korean, Sichuan and Italian. Our server was good, helpful but not overly intrusive. From our dining nook, the people-watching as the bar area filled up with revelers was very amusing. The mashed potatoes were a bit heavy-handed on the cream, salt and butter. Absolutely delicious, but best in small doses, at least until we get on a more regular workout regime. 

Ramen Omiyage

One of the nice perks of working with Japanese people, is the occasional special food gift from Tokyo visitors. My boyfriend received a great gift the other day. Fresh ramen noodles with special soup broth from around Japan. There's the Hokkaido miso ramen; Fukuoka tonkotsu ramen; Wakayama-ken shoyu ramen and Fukushima-ken ramen.
 The ramen box set.
This is perfect for us, since the boyfriend loves shoyu and I'm a super tonkotsu fan.
Ramen with sauteed mushrooms, marinated bean sprouts, boiled egg and spicy ground beef.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kushi with the Girls

Met the ladies for dinner and drinks at the end of a hectic day. We also finally met a long-time friend of the effervescent JK. It's really nice to meet good people and I love to gather with my wonderful friends. Each one is unique. Our traveling yogi pulled out a super cute chapeau and sequin top. Heard more about the evil boss of another, learned how JK has become a home coffee bean roaster and may, just may be a bit particular about making coffee. The company and the conversation was great. Unfortunately, Kushi continued to underwhelm.
 Beautiful touch, violet lilies.
Another nice touch was the offering of house-made still or sparkling water to the table. Our main waiter was also very patient and fairly attentive. 
 Soba Noodle Salad
The vegan diner seemed to like this, but this is not really a traditional izakaya menu item. Where did the Japanese potato salad go, or hijiki salad?
This was down the table and didn't hear feedback at the time, but the slices are cut too thickly.
 3 types of raw oysters with a weird soy-based dipping sauce.
Oysters were ok, but I prefer either a mignonette sauce or even cocktail sauce.
 Chicken karaage
The coating and flavor was right, but the price was not right. Also the use of breast meat leads to a bit blander meat and I prefer leg and thigh meat for Japanese fried chicken bites.
 Spicy Tuna Roll
Once again, the rice was wrong, too mushy. Glad only one roll was ordered.
Grilled Kabocha Squash with a soy-butter glaze.
The butter just didn't work right for me.
It rubs me the wrong way when restaurant staff mispronounce menu items. This is not "kabochi". Pet peeve, but just the proverbial nail in an underwhelming and overpriced dinner. I have high standards when it comes to Japanese food, with my own super authority at home. I had huge hopes for a true izakaya to return to DC. This one had flashes of potential early on, but a series of underwhelming dinners here left me with no desire to return. There are nice touches, like offering a platter of sake cups for the diner to choose from, and water service. However the pre-dining oshibori was missing, the yakitori are not grilled over flame, the sushi is just...I'm going to stick into the adage that if you do not have something nice to say, to not say anything at all.

Potbelly TKY

I cheated on Axian and went downstairs during a rainy day at the office. If I had wanted to live in Seattle, I would have. I'm feeling like a little more sunshine would improve my productivity.
The TKY is a smaller quantity of turkey meat on a "skinny" wheat roll.
The hot peppers add that extra kick that make this a great sandwich with less guilt.

Bolognese Is a Labor of Love

Referring to my Italian cookbooks, I fell upon Marcella Hazan's bolognese recipe. This is not something to try to pull off on a weekday, but I had plenty of time on the long weekend. Bolognese done well has a rich and deep flavor, but it takes time. Used some onion, celery, carrot, garlic, beef and pork, white wine, milk and tomatoes with fresh oregano and parley. Lots of stirring was involved and quite a few hours of simmering on the stovetop, but it resulted in a flavorful sauce the boy loved.
After making the sauce during the weekend, it quickly reheated while the pasta cooked. I'll definitely appreciate the bolognese sauce in restaurants much more after this experience.

Snacks at Ted's Montana Grill

I finally made good on a promise to go to the movie theater. With the astronomical price of movie tickets and the ridiculously slow-moving concessions line with "deals" that cost as much as admission for two, I just don't enjoy going to the movie theater as much these days. Especially when we can watch so many movies from Netflix at home on the massive tv screen with our kitchen a few steps away. My boyfriend however, loooves the big screen. We went to see Contagion and stopped in for a quick snack at Ted's beforehand. They have a bar special from 4-7 pm every day worth checking out.
 House-made potato chips with creamy dip.
I love potatoes and most things fried. This should have been a home run, ,but I thought they would be still hot. This had been made a while before, and while good, not amazing.
We tried the sliders.
Offered in beef or bison, we tried the bison and really enjoyed them. Great dish to share.
The Ted's at Hoffman was pretty quiet, and a good place to grab a bite to eat before or after a movie. Now the The highlight was watching Gwyneth Paltrow die a very unattractive death, although I'm not a GP fan. The boy thought the film played out more like a documentary and was a little disappointed. We should have gone to see Ides of March instead.

Cooking at Home: Pad Thai and Crumble

With a refrigerator full of fresh vegetables, I tried to make homemade pad thai.
 Lime, cilantro, scallions, bean sprouts, jalapeno, egg, ground pork, carrots, mushrooms, and zucchini with rice noodles. Still have some ways to go in perfecting the sauce recipe, and definitely in cutting down the prep time from over an hour from refrigerator to table, but the boy loved it.
Apple-Asian Pear Crumble
I promised to make him an apple dessert, but lacked the energy to make my own pie crust. No worries, with some flour, butter and sugar, I made him a tasty crumble that went well with a small container of Ben and Jerry's vanilla ice cream.

Finally Assuaged the Spice Craving

During our near-weekly Super H journey we stopped for dinner at the Food Court. I thought it was interesting that even here, the cooks in the kitchen are Hispanic. There's a remarkable ability to learn how to cook a variety of cuisines, and cook them well that I've witnessed throughout the years. Look at the line of most restaurants, and you're going to find at least a few Hispanic employees. At the restaurant I worked at during college, the line staff was 90% Hispanic, mostly from the Dominican Republic and Honduras, and I learned my first cooking tricks by watching them.
But I digress. This meal finally hit the right notes of hot and spicy that I had been searching for all week. While the boy stuck with his favorite standby, I tried out a slightly different version of jjamppong.
 Mixed seafood and vegetable medley jjamppong.
The broth is so fiery and spicy, it hit the spot and I really like the long noodles. I even liked the addition of sweet bell peppers and broccoli.
He loves this. Shredded short rib beef in a spicy broth with glass noodles and vegetables.
Despite my spicy bowl of jjamppong arriving before him, he sat there watching me slowly toil through the big bowl with his bowl and rice empty. We talked about how Japanese people are taught to slurp noodles, making noise, and how my family was not. No slurping, no noisy eating at my mom's table. And definitely no swiveling in the chair. I failed to follow the last rule a lot.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mala Tang Lunch

Caught up this afternoon with a good friend. After her hair appointment and my mani-pedi in Rosslyn, we met up for a late lunch in Arlington. I've tried Uncle Liu's in Falls Church a number of times, and really like it. Sichuan food is deliciously spicy and I've been craving some serious spice lately. Fortunately my friend has wanted some spicy food as well. Earlier this year, Uncle Liu's owners opened an Arlington outpost named Mala Tang. With a much larger investment in decor, the interior of Mala Tang is really very aesthetically pleasing but I was interested in seeing how the spice factor translated from Falls Church to Arlington. 
 Dan Dan Mein
The noodles were wider and flatter than normal versions I've tried at Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville and DC. The sauce is spicy, but not authentically spicy, lessened perhaps for the tastes of Arlingtonians?
 Zhong Dumplings
Steamed meat dumplings in a spicy sauce with scallions.
 We ordered the tabletop hot pot with NY strip, lamb, bean sprouts, fish balls, enoki mushrooms and spinach.
 Unlike Uncle Liu's family-style pots, Mala Tang offers individual pots. 
Perhaps this appeals to people who may not view the idea of communal hot pot cooking as pleasant, but to me it was a bit odd. I do think this would be helpful if you have a group of people, with varying dietary issues.
We both chose the Mala, or spicy-numbing broth.
After adding in the individual ingredients to cook in the bubbling broth, we then removed the cooked items and dipped in a sauce provided by our kind server. It was really delicious, and had we been more strategic, we would have just ordered collectively for the table. As it was, we had a lot of ingredients leftover after reaching past the point of full. Tossing the leftover bits and bobs into the broth to cook, we asked the server if we could take home the rest. 
Mala Tang is good, and fits the Arlington scene. However, knowing that a meal at Uncle Liu's is equally good and can be divided amongst a group of four or five for a much more reasonable $15-20 per person, the $40 each we paid was a bit steep. I know better, and should have figured out their system faster. I'd go again, especially if there was a vegetarian, someone allergic to shellfish, and a devote carnivore in the group. But I would definitely ask for an authentically spicy mala broth.