Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hong Kong Pearl Seafood Restaurant Dim Sum

I enjoy dim sum, especially when the offerings are hot and fresh. We've tried a number of dim sum restaurants with rolling carts in both Virginia and Maryland, and have yet to find a favorite. I like Oriental East in Silver Spring with its bright space and bustling atmosphere, but the wait for a table can be really long and the location is a quite a drive. Mark's Duck House is the opposite, with a dark atmosphere, but closer to where we live. 
This weekend we tried out a new dim sum joint near Eden Center and Mark's Duck House.  The space is large, with a number of round tables nicely spaced apart. When we arrived at 11 am, the restaurant was only half full. The staff swooped quickly to our table with their carts, offering all types of delicious dishes. With two other friends we had a nice time enjoying pots of chrysanthemum tea and jasmine tea, good conversation and trying a nice variety of dishes. They didn't start to bring out a wider variety of dishes until closer to 12 pm, so showing up right when they open at 10 am means a limited selection.
Crispy fried jumbo shrimp with serrano chilies, crepe noodle with shrimp.
The shrimp were still hot and were very good dipped in a mixture of red chili oil and soy sauce.
Roast chicken, bbq pork, gai lan with sauce, and shrimp-chive dumplings.
Congee with scallions, preserved egg and pork.
HKPS has a cart dedicated to congee, with a variety of toppings. My fiance loves congee, and very few places in the DC region offer it with their dim sum. This version was very good and super comforting.
Har Gao 
Har gao are usually one of my favorite items for dim sum. These were a bit over steamed, and the shrimp paste mixture fell out of the wrapper.
Steamed bbq pork buns
The dough was super soft and squishy, and the filling was nice and savory with a tangy bbq mixture.
For all of the dishes and tea, this was $21 per person including tax and tip. Definitely a great price considering the wide variety of dishes we tried. The staff was very attentive, constantly refilling the hot water in the pots of tea, and topping off water glasses. Since we sat down while waiting for one more person, we had to wave off the carts numerous times, but I consider that eagerness a positive virtue. The shrimp and chive dumplings and pork buns were probably my favorite. I liked the gai lan, but plastic Chinese chopsticks are not the best tool to pick up round objects.

Weekday Lunches

Since we hadn't gone to do a complete grocery restock before this week, I picked up a few lunches from my regular haunts. I'm still on my spice kick, which I think I finally satisfied. I also did better at incorporating green vegetables.
Sichuan Pavilion Takeout: Sauteed spinach with garlic and spicy dan dan noodles. 
Even though the takeout menu doesn't list my favorite Sichuan specials, you can still order them for takeout.
Axian Sandwich: Chicken, Mozzarella, Pesto panini
Now all sandwich orders come with a free order of steak fries or chips. I decided to try something different. I wish it was pressed a little more, with the ciabatta bread crunchy, but it's a hearty sandwich.
Pret a Manger tuna nicoise salad with lemon and shallot vinaigrette.

La Taberna del Alabardero

Work has been incredibly stressful lately, trying to catch up on the two weeks I was out of the office while tasks continues to pile up. Multitasking and prioritizing, then reprioritizing. After a long day, my sweet fiance surprised me with a special treat. We had dinner at Spanish restaurant Taberna del Alabardero, followed by a tour of the West Wing.
Grilled asparagus with wild mushrooms and potato violet
King prawns wrapped with bacon.
The outside had a fantastic crunch.
Paella de Langosta (paella with lobster, shrimp, scallops and squid.)
We had an excellent chilled Albarino wine, and the service is superb. I especially appreciated the finger bowls of warm lemon water and towels they provided since extracting the lobster meat was a messy affair. In one particularly graceful moment, I sprayed lobster bits over my fiance's face. Fortunately we were tucked away in an alcove where only 1/3 of the restaurant could witness my clumsiness. This is not a place for a quick meal, and the prices relegate this to a special occasion place. The execution of the dishes is very good, and it really is a remarkable restaurant.
Following our dinner, we met up with a White House staffer for a late evening personal tour of the West Wing. Apparently tours are possible through employees, and we were fortunate to be introduced to one through my fiance's company. It was interesting to see how narrow the hallways are, and the photos on the walls show the President up-close in a variety of recent public appearances. I particularly liked the photo of Bo in pink bunny ears and hearing that he has his own set of Secret Service handlers who have taught him tricks to perform.

Lunch at Clyde's in Chinatown

My fiance and I do similar work, and sometimes we attend the same events. This week there was a special consortium held at the DC Convention Center, but lunch was not provided. We wandered from the Convention Center over to Clydes in Chinatown.
Bacon Swiss Cheeseburger
Crabcake Sandwich
Despite the restaurant spanning two floors, there were a number of large parties and no open tables. We ended up sitting at one of the bars. The bartender was decent, but seemed more preoccupied with haranguing his bar-back. 
The crabcake is a nice version although it has a decent amount of filler. Reminds me I need to stop by the farmers' market to pick up some crabcakes from Chris's Marketplace. Those are delicious, all crab meat and a great price.

Cherry Blossoms in DC

One of my favorite times in DC is when the sakura bloom. We returned from winter in Japan to an early spring. The weather has been unseasonably warm this year and the sakura peak bloom period was pushed up to March 20-23. 100 years ago 1,000 cherry trees were given as a gift from Japan to the US. Since the initial gift, the US has returned the favor, sending cuttings from the original trees planted in the Tidal Basin back to Japan.  
Since the initial gift, cherry blossom trees have been planted throughout the DC region.
Bringing a little natural beauty to DC city streets.

Honeypig's Expansion Area... Darker and Different

My fiance loves Honeypig for super casual Korea bbq in Annandale. While I'm a fan of Korean bbq, I prefer places that have a nice array of panchan and pleasant servers, but you can't beat Honeypig's prices. Since Honeypig has become increasingly popular and also jumped on the Groupon/Living Social bandwagon, a long wait for a table is more the norm than the exception. 
We headed over one Sunday evening and were led to a room behind the second room behind the main room. This new area has a banquet running along one wall with tables and three other round tables for two. With the dark walls and decor, it looks like it was used for karaoke. The music was a little different, and the atmosphere was a little less frenetic. The service was still harried, but I liked this area more than the other areas.
Salad and average panchan with my favorite Korean beer, Cass
Seafood pancake (hamul pajeon), kalbi, gyutan (tongue) and kimchi with bean sprouts
Soon doobu with seafood
This soon doobu was nice, spicy and even better than their regular soft tofu stews. There must have been a different person preparing it, and I hope that person is working the next time we go.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sichuan Express Noodle Soup

My fiance has Sichuan Pavilion burnout. He had one too many office dinners there lately, ordering the usual 5-6 dishes. This means I need to satisfy my Sichuan craving on my own time. I headed over to Sichuan Express twice this week, craving something spicy to power through seasonal allergies. The first time, they were out of mapo tofu on the buffet so I wandered over to pick up a less satisfying gyro. The next time, there was no mapo on the buffet menu at all, so I ordered a soup.
 Eight Treasure Noodle Soup takeout 
Tofu, shrimp, chicken and pork with vegetables, noodles and soup.
I decided to be adventurous and try something different than my favorite mapo noodle soup. I should have stuck with my tried and true favorite. This was a bit oily and not spicy enough. Portion-wise, this is 2 servings so I used a bit of restraint and only ate half. I don't have that much restraint with the mapo.
I think the beef with bok choy and pork with mustard greens noodle soups are the only ones I haven't tried yet. The noodle soups have become increasingly this year. I've seen 4-5 people waiting off to the side for their soup orders instead of choosing the buffet each time I go. 

Colombia Firehouse in Old Town Alexandria

We underestimated Colombia Firehouse's popularity one Friday back in winter. Without a reservation the wait was over 2 hours. Fortunately, we went on a Wednesday evening and there were tables inside available. One strange thing, the hostess greeted us and there was an empty table, but she made us wait until her younger sidekick came back to show us to the table. 
 Caesar salad with pickled onions and a dozen oysters.
Fantastic, tangy dressing and the pickled onions worked. We shared a platter with four types of oysters from the East Coast. However, the platter was delivered without anyone telling us what types they were. Apparently this is not Hank's Oyster Bar where they give you a print out of the names of oysters and order.
 My fiance ordered the bison shortrib stroganoff, but they ran out. Instead he had the cider-brined pork chop with housemade sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. The plate was a wash of browns, and needed a pop of color.
Steamed PEI Mussels with Green Curry, sides of fried and green beans
The curry sauce was surprisingly spicy and flavorful. Fries were crispy, and the green beans provided the needed vegetable side. I put aside table manners and thoroughly enjoyed dipping the bread into the sauce. 
We both remembered underwhelming dining experiences at Portners, which was the former restaurant in the Colombia Firehouse space. Colombia Firehouse is a huge improvement. It has a nice, varied menu, and I liked the atmosphere with the old wooden floors and beams. Another nice touch, they have some lovely nonalcoholic beverages including a sparkling pomegranate lemonade that was incredibly refreshing. I would like to got back and have a cheese and charcuterie platter and try another type of mussels. 

Bayou Bakery in Courthouse

To cap off our Louisiana-inspired food adventures, we headed to Bayou Bakery.
Robust coffee and an order of beignets.
My fiance loves beignets, and called these hot pillows of deliciousness covered in powdered snow. These were so good, he got an order to-go.

Hot n Juicy Crawfish Restaurant in Woodley Park

I've never eaten crawfish out of a plastic bag mixed with spicy sauce before, but there's always a first time. I noticed it's crawfish season, and wanted to catch up with my marathon-addicted friend, so we decided to try out Hot n Juicy. My sweet fiance joined us for the messy food adventure. 
We saw a picture of Man v. Food's Adam Richman at the entrance. I've stopped watching the show since it only makes me want to binge on mammoth cheesesteaks, but I believe Hot n Juicy in Vegas was in one of the episodes.
 My fiance and I arrived a little early, so we started off with a dozen oysters.
These were large oysters, but not expertly shucked. There were bits of shell and torn oysters on the shells in the too tiny platter. 
Very buttery, with a nice spice level, and ample crawfish meat. I would order this again, with 1 pound of shrimp in a spicy sauce, with some cold beers.
 Get Your Feet Wet (for two) with Hot n Juicy sauce, medium-spice level
1 pound crawfish, 1 pound shrimp, 12 pieces of sausage, 2 pieces of corn, 2 potatoes
 Rip open the bag, and get a little messy.
Apparently you can ask for plastic bibs, but our server was not incredibly attentive and we had to flag him down for more drinks.
 The extra order of 1 pound of crawfish in very spicy sauce came out some time after the GYFW bag.
I liked the sauce at medium spicy, could have managed spicy level, but the very spicy sauce was too much of a good thing. My fiance started sweating after two or three crawfish. He loved the heat and burn, and I think is already looking forward to a return visit.
The food is good and beers were cold, the downside was more service-related. The kitchen was fielding orders slowly, and our extra order of spicy sauce did not arrive until we were ready for the check. The one server for the back area seemed overwhelmed, maybe they need to schedule an extra server.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Yakiniku in Kagoshima

We love Korea bbq in Annandale, but it pales in comparison to Japanese yakiniku. At a Japanese bbq restaurant, you order the different plates of meat and cook the meat at your own pace. At a Korean bbq place, the staff cook the meat for you, and set a faster pace to the meal. 
 Grilling vegetables 
Gyu-tan and horumon
Really a lovely multi-generational dinner with the relatives in Kagoshima. This was the first time my fiance visited the southern islands of Kyushu and Shikoku. I feel truly fortunate to have experienced such a remarkable journey through the beautiful countryside of Japan to meet many different relatives with my fiance and his parents. 

Dinner in Kagoshima

We traveled by train down to Kagoshima to see the sister and family of my future MIL. Her younger sister and BIL, mother, and niece's family all live in the same neighborhood. Much like my fiance's mother, his aunt is a very good cook. She made a super tonkatsu from kurobuta. They also grow many vegetables on their land. 
 So many delicious dishes.
 Chicken karaage
 snap peas with pasta 
 raw chicken and chicken skin
A Kagoshima specialty, the chicken was butchered that morning.
fresh tonkatsu

Seafood Izakaya in Nagasaki

Izakayas are fun, you order a wide variety of small plates to share while you drink and talk. Recommended by the taxi driver who showed us around Nagasaki for the afternoon, this place had a remarkable array of fresh seafood. There were even signs for kujira (whale) available. While I gamely tried at least a bite of most things during this trip, I'm glad no one ordered any whale.
 Hijiki Salad
 Squid sashimi
The squid body is sliced, with the legs later grilled.
 Mackerel sashimi
Generally, it's unsafe to eat raw mackerel, which is susceptible to the parasite anisakis. MIL said it was only safe when you can eat the fish within 15 minutes of being cleaned and filleted.
 Sashimi with real wasabi.
 Raw oysters with tobiko
 Whiting tempura
 Gobo Karaage (fried burdock root)
 Beautiful presentation
 Chicken karaage
 renkon topped crab dumplings
It's hard to describe the texture but incredibly tasty.
Yaki-onigiri to end the parade of dishes

Osaka Dinner

We traveled by shinkansen to Osaka and stayed overnight with the younger brother and wife of my future father-in-law. It's fun to go from Kanto to Kansai, and see how different the regions are. While you stand on the left side of the escalator in the Kanto region, you must remember to stand on the right side in the Kansai area. Even the way people sell things in the department store is different, with hawkers a little louder in Kansai.
My fiance was particularly excited, since his aunt is a very good chef. She created a wonderful array of dishes and it was a pleasure to meet the Osaka relatives, including his grandmother, who really enjoyed the choux-creme pastry from Hanshin Department Store. 
 Sashimi salad with mayonnaise
 Maki-Sushi with egg and cucumber
 Mackerel with daikon and carrot salad
Teriyaki Chicken with kaiware and scallions
 Mentaiko salad with daikon and kaiware sprouts
 Fried shrimp
Sukiyaki with Leeks
A delicious feast with a wide variety of dishes. We sat around the tables eating, drinking and talking through the night. With lingering jetlag, I wandered off to bed on the early side and fell asleep on the comfortable futons, with the pitter patter of rainfall lulling me to sleep. The following morning we headed off to the train station in the rain, en route to Nagasaki on Kyushu.