Olivia’s Diner, Downtown

You have two people to thank for this review: cheezepowder, who fastidiously included Olivia’s Diner on her List of Restaurant Openings – 2015 thread, and jasonc, whose post written to me got me all teary-eyed and inspired to keep going.

Olivia’s Diner is smack dab in the middle of downtown, on 19th and L, just NW of Farragut North Metro, and due south of Dupont Circle. There will be *lots* of available parking should it ever stay open for late-night dining, which it will need to do in order to survive. But it has the potential to do a lot more than survive – late-night dining is an empty niche that the younger demographic of this city desperately wants to fill, and Olivia’s is exactly the type of place that will fit the bill.

Set right between Smith & Wollensky on the south, and the still-for-lease Luigi’s on the north, the former with an active patio, and the latter with a large awning jutting out, Olivia’s easily gets lost, both to drivers and to foot traffic. It will be imperative that people *know* about it; not just stumble upon it (you don’t really “stumble upon” late-night diners in this city anyway). Think of it as being shaped as a “less-than sign” (<) with the three vertices being Luigi’s on the top-right (with it’s jutting-out awning), Olivia’s on the center-left, hidden from view, and Smith & Wollensky on the bottom-right, with their patio.

Smith & Wollensky’s patio was full last night (yeah, sure, DC’s a super-sophisticated dining town – where did you read that again?), and Olivia’s was empty, and hidden by the Luigi’s awning. “We’re hoping for an awning fire,” someone joked to me, adding that they didn’t have a clue what was going on with the leasing of Luigi’s.

I took a seat at the bar, and asked for a beer list, which is on the rather lengthy menu (which was apparently pared down after management decided it was too long). It isn’t lengthy so much as “pagey,” having a lot of pages, but really not so terribly many items per page. It’s organized like this, by page numbers:

1. Breakfast Items

2. Beer, Wine, and Non-Alcoholic Drinks

3. Sandwiches

4. Appetizers (top half) and Salads (bottom half)

5. Hamburgers (top half) and Hot Dogs (bottom half)

6. Entrees

7. Desserts

And that’s it – it’s really quite manageable to navigate, and well-organized to the reader, but it helps to have a hint in advance (which I just gave you).

I raised an eyebrow at the prices of the beers: all draft beers (and they have a nice little selection) are $8 or $9; what I didn’t realize, however, is that there’s a sandwich sign on the sidewalk that says “Select Draft Beers are Half-Price 3-9PM, M-F,” and I gathered from talking with the bartender that quite a few of the beers are in the half-off selection.

I had plopped down in front of one of the two flat-screen TVs at the bar, which contains perhaps 20 seats – most of the restaurant is booths, with a few tables scattered about – it’s laid out well despite it’s shotgun design, and should be a very comfortable place for late-night dining, as well as Weekend Brunch with the family or hungover friends (slinking into a booth, and burying their ashen faces in a newspaper, not wanting to see or hear anyone or anything).

Nursing a pint of Rowdy ($8 cut to $4), a rye beer from Atlas Brew Works based in DC, I slowly perused the menu and watched the baseball game, occasionally chatting with the bartender. I was pretty sure I’d get breakfast food, and I’m not a big fan of beer with breakfast food (however, I’m a big fan of beer *before* breakfast food), so I knocked back my Rowdy and ordered a second. Then, as I began sipping my pint, I ordered delightfully evil Benedict: Chicken-Fried Steak ($10) which came with two properly-cooked poached eggs (meaning, well-poached with a warm, runny yolk), a square-shaped biscuit cut in half horizontally (the better to host the steak and eggs), and a shockingly meaty sausage gravy. When I think sausage gravy, my default is a milk-based gravy with the occasional crumble of sausage; this was the furthest thing possible from that – it was essentially crumbled sausage, more crumbled sausage, and even more crumbled sausage, with barely enough liquid so that you could call it a gravy, although I suppose it technically is; there was more meat from the sausage on my plate than there was from my steak, and I had two pieces of what I believe to be NY Strip, or at least that’s what the bartender thought it was, and he may be right. (Olivia’s burgers, by the way, are made from a blend of three, house-ground, whole cuts: chuck, short rib, and brisket, fried in a cast-iron skillet – these burgers “read” like they have some potential). Even though it didn’t say so on the menu, the Benedicts come with hash brown potatoes, and these were really good – good enough where I was tempted not to shake some Tabasco around the side of the plate. I don’t know if I simply missed it, or if it wasn’t on the menu, but Olivia’s should make it clear that the Benedict comes with hash browns because it makes it an even better value (my bartender asked me if I wanted hash browns, but I assumed, at first, it was an extra, and said ‘no’). My bartender also implied that this dish, after I asked him, was (literally) a killer, i.e., a cardiologist’s favorite, but even though it was certainly a “heavy” dish, it was not gratuitously greasy at all; in fact, considering the ingredients it had, I thought it was remarkably clean, and shockingly inexpensive – this could have easily been $14 instead of $10, but I’m pretty sure Olivia’s, should they ever switch over to full-price beers, will meet their projected revenues, especially if they stay open late *which they need to do* (have I said that before?) If you like this sort of “to hell with the cardiologist,” kitchen-sink breakfast dish, you should enjoy this, and when the check arrives, it will do nothing to make you enjoy it less. I noticed a vegetarian hash made with sweet potatoes and chickpeas for the meatless crowd wanting to chow down on heavy breakfast fare as well. They also sell pancakes and Belgian waffles (take note, Leslie), and offer Vermont maple syrup for a $1.50 upcharge (a splurge that is worth it 100% of the time).

There are enough buzzwords on Olivia’s menu where you take it seriously; unfortunately, there are enough buzzwords on Olivia’s menu where you question the dishes that don’t have them! “House-made meatballs,” “Local, all-natural chicken,” “Aged Cheddar Mac & Cheese,” “Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese” and “Point Reyes Blue Cheese” in some of their menu items, ‘House-made slaw,” “Fresh-cut fries” – all of these are on the menu, and they do force the diner to wonder about the entrees that don’t contain them; on the other hand, listing these types of things for *every* menu item would be beyond annoying, so maybe it’s just right like it is.

The only unusual event that made me raise an eyebrow was a question I heard shouted from the kitchen. There was a high-level manager there, overseeing operations (even though there were only three people in the restaurant, and two ladies were finishing up their dessert before I had gotten my Benedict). So I assume the question, … “in the microwave?” (I missed the garbled first part of it) pertained to my assembled dish, which didn’t inspire much confidence. Just to be absolutely sure I wan’t hearing things, when my order arrived, I asked the bartender if he could “nuke it for about 45 seconds,” as it was warm, but I like my sausage gravy to be piping hot – this, at the potential cost of losing my runny egg yolks. Well, lo and behold, it came back piping hot, but my yolks were still perfectly runny. This microwave incident is by no means the end of the world – when I walked by the kitchen, there was some pre-fried chicken (and I assume pre-fried chicken-fried steak) back there, so they had to heat the entire dish up somehow – the batter was crispy, and nothing at all was mushy, so whatever they did, worked. And I was even glad I sent it back to be heated up.

Wanting to try a couple more things (but having had plenty to eat in this one sitting), I ordered a couple Bagels with Cream Cheese ($2 each) to go, but was told they had run out of bagels, and all other pasties, in the morning (this was good news, as it means they’re doing some daytime business even though they just opened). So even though I didn’t get my bagels, it was still music to my ears, and I ended up getting a Cobb Salad ($8) with an extra of Grilled Chicken ($4) for the next day. The Cobb Salad (we were, after all, talking about Cobb in Washington, DC just hours before) comes with Iceburg lettuce, fire-roasted corn, tomatoes, radish, avocado, applewood-smoked bacon (another one of those buzzwords! And what is so special about the wood of an apple tree?), and Green Goddess dressing; however, when my bartender asked me what type of dressing I wanted, I, like a bumbling idiot, said “Ranch,” when, in fact, I would have surely preferred the Green Goddess (I wasn’t looking at the menu at the time; I had seen it before and was ordering from memory – I like my chervil and tarragon, and this split-second stutter-step cost me dearly and herbaceously).

It was easy to mentally compensate for the Cobb Salad being enjoyed for lunch the next day – the avocado had browned normally, etc. – this was a very “normal” Cobb Salad, but differed from the menu description in several ways: there was no corn, there was no radish, and there was blue cheese. Although it’s a personal preference, I would have asked for no blue cheese had I known (I like blue cheese dressing, but I find actual blue cheese to be entirely overwhelming in a mild salad such as this, and almost never get it). I suspect they were out of corn and radish, and tried to compensate by adding the blue cheese in their stead, but it didn’t work for me at all. However, the chicken, for $4, was a screaming bargain – there were about six long, thin, strips of grilled breast meat that was well-worth the money. I find grilled chicken breast like this to go very well with smoked bacon, and there was plenty of that, too. This was not the healthiest of salads, but I’m sure it could be customized to be so, and it was certainly a fair value for the money. I do think it’s important not to make unannounced substitutions (especially on a carryout order!), so hopefully Olivia’s will take this minor error and correct it – it can be corrected instantly during a single staff meeting. I also suspect they haven’t quite worked out their purchasing, given that they just opened a few weeks ago, and the summer crowds in that part of DC can be extremely unpredictable. I part with this final thought: Stay open late, *market* that you’re staying open late, and stick to your late hours, even if you’re empty – there’s nothing worse than trekking over to a restaurant at night only to find it closed. I wish you all well, and hope you serve many an early-morning breakfast to post-club, end-of-evening, hungry Washingtonians.

On my way back to the car, I spotted a flag at half-mast, not realizing that President Obama had ordered it. I took this picture, dedicated to our servicemen in Chattanooga. Why is there such pointless hatred in this world?

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Brine, Merrifield, VA

I’ll write a review of my meal at Brine, but I don’t feel like writing tonight, and I want to at least issue a brief warning (which I will delete) to people thinking of dining there this weekend:

Go *now*. Because it will never be any better than it is, and right now, the food is fabulous. And I mean effing fabulous! More later, but when (not if; *when*) you go, think “produce and fish.”

I was out at a forever-changed Tysons Corner, near the Greensboro Metro Stop, on late Friday afternoon, and knew this was one of my best chances to get to Brine, just a short hop down Gallows Road.

I pulled up a seat at the bar, and unwound with a pint of Three Notch’d “Hydraulion” Irish Red ($6), an antidote towards overhopped IPAs that so fiendishly plague this poor, naive country of maltless primitives, then began my meal with a Radish Salad ($6), about eight different large chunks of (presumably heirloom-type) radishes, oyster aioli (which is something I’m not familiar with, but it was very good), chive blossom, and Maldon salt. These were largely as Ilaine describes below, except that I really enjoyed them. Yes, they were extremely hard, but instead of gnawing them, I merely cut them in half with my knife (even that was something of a challenge). I really enjoyed this dish, and the texture didn’t bother me so much as it fascinated me – with the dipping aioli, I thought it made for a wonderful appetizer on a hot afternoon, and gave me enough confidence in the produce here, to go a step deeper with the rest of my meal.

For my main course, I asked for two things brought out together: Crispy Redbor Kale ($8) which, like the Radish Salad, was from the “Sharing Size” section of the menu, and from the “Simple Fish” section of the menu, Croaker ($16), choosing Preserved Lemon Aioli as my sauce, despite knowing that there might be some redundancy with the sauce that came with the Radish Salad. Together, I picked a combination of dishes that were so good, I simply couldn’t believe what I was eating. Let me also mention that I was asked if I wanted some bread, and I said, ‘Sure, a couple pieces,’ mainly to give a it a try. What arrived was a tin pail of Parker House Rolls, made to order, and while not Zieboldian, these were about the second-best Parker House Rolls I’ve seen in this city of imitators – they were just about perfect, and so good that I was dumbfounded – so good that I had to control myself in order to distribute them throughout the meal rather than instantly gobbling them down. Although they went well with every single dish as a swab, they were best eaten alone because anything you added to them, detracted from them.

The Crispy Redbor Kale salad was a masterpiece: a mound of crispy Kale (think of the Palaak Chaat at Rasika), atop something called “Grated Tomato,” with olive oil and “zucchini pickles” which were negligible. This dish was Kale on Tomatoes, and looked exactly like some sort of Japanese Seaweed on an impossibly large pool of Tobiko or Ikura, but the pinkish base was, in fact, grated tomato, most likely sweetened with a bit of simple syrup, and served cold as a salad. The texture of the kale was precisely that fall-apart texture you find at Rasika with their Palaak Chaat – this dish was heaven, and even better with my simply grilled Croaker – one of the most perfectly cooked pieces of fish I can remember having in a long time. The croaker was served atop a little bed of stems (I’m sorry, I was unable to identify them), and the lemon aioli was really just a couple of blots – the fish itself was the star of the show, and these two items in combination had me walking away from my dinner, knowing that I had stumbled upon a restaurant with such great potential that I had to wait until I was well-rested to write the review. All three things, even the tough-to-cut radishes, were at a level of quality you just don’t see. When I was eating my kale and croaker, I was daydreaming, typing in messages on my cellphone, pretty much anything to distract myself, but like what happens to me sometimes at Corduroy, these dishes were so perfect that they forced me into the moment. I sat there, silently staring at what was in front of me, just in awe of what I was experiencing. Brine, despite its enormous size, on this evening, was at a level of greatness that I rarely see.

Ilaine, on 18 Jul 2015 – 9:26 PM, said:Husband was begging to go back, and Don’s post above stimulated me to say, “sure, why not?”

My opinion hasn’t improved but it hasn’t gotten worse.

Got there at six on a Saturday, out by 7:15 p.m. In the interim, it went from less than half full to mostly full, and the noise level went up accordingly. Speaking objectively, I would describe the decibel level as “brutal.” Not actually a problem for me. After raising two sons, I can tune out a lot of noise, but if you can’t do that, well, you’ve been warned. It would take a lot of wall hangings and whatnot to dampen this down. The hard chairs don’t help.

Food. It’s July and deep in my heart eating oysters in July is just wrong. In my old home town of New Orleans, the Acme Oysrer bar would close for the summer. But the oysters were fine. Excellent. We asked for a dozen each, got only one dozen, perhaps dur to decibel level, although we always have a hard time explaining to waitstaff that we want a dozen (or more) each. Why, I don’t know.

Surely the decible level contributed to the only other snafu. Husband ordered yellowtail carpaccio, waiter thought he said gaspacho. Carpaccio, gazpacho, easy mistake? The gave him the gazpacho and then the carpaccio, and the manager came by to apologize. Gazpacho puréed, tasty but obviously not carpaccio. He liked both. I thought the carpaccio filets were excessively large but he was pleased.

He also managed to eat almost all my crab chowder when I wasn’t looking. I passed the bowl to him for a taste, and when I looked up, he was scraping the bowl with his spoon.

My crab cake was a typical Maryland style crab cake. It was fine. The menu mentioned lump crabmeat, and there was probably a mention of lump crabmeat in the crabcake, but pretty much all shreds of back meat. Some filler but not a lot. Old bay. The usual. Neither here nor there.

Charcuterie also hit and miss. Ham surryano and duck rillette hits, pate a miss.

Side of grilled corn, WTF? Modern type sugar sweet corn, nicely grilled, slathered in crema and fresh cheese, except for the unepected sweetness of the corn, well executed. The WTF moment came from the wedges of lime on the side, doused with the crema. If you’re going to pick up a crema doused wedge of lime and squeeze that juice on your corn, you’re a something or other person than I am.

Radish salad, WTF, as well. For $7 for a radish salad, I expect, well, radishes. Most of the plate was big chunks, I mean a couple inches square, of a very pretty purple “radish” that after eating, I swear was a turnip. It was very hard, and had a thick skin. The only way to eat it was by gnawing it. The taste was pretty ok, but that big of a hunk of hard vegetable should have been sliced thinly.

I dunno, Brine.

Two nights later I was back with my young dining companion, having raved to him about this incredible new restaurant in the Mosaic development. I had read Ilaine’s review, and although I had 100% confidence that “I was right” with my opinion of my first visit, I’m also experienced enough, and know that Ilaine is experienced enough, to know that “she wasn’t wrong” with her opinion. Something was amiss.

My son and I were seated at a two-top in the middle of the restaurant, and perused the menu for awhile. Although I urged him to get a mocktail (this is the place for one), he stuck with water as he so often does (and good for him), whereas I stuck with the proven Three Notch’d “Hydraulion” Irish Red ($6). My only instructions for him were that we had to get the Crispy Redbor Kale ($8) because he simply wasn’t going to believe how good kale could be, and what “grated tomato” was like. Other than that, we tore the menu apart (not literally), getting samples of many different things: from the “Raw Bar” section, a Chilled Carolina Shrimp Cocktail ($13 for 6); from the “Sharing Size” section, the Kale, and then Squash Blossoms ($9) with scallop and swordfish mousseline, and charred scallion, the Beef Tartare ($16) with caperberry, rye crostini, two dots of horseradish, and a dusting of black vegetable ash; and from the “Simple Fish” section, the Mahi-Mahi ($18), which a lady was having next to me on my first visit, and was raving about – it was obvious just looking at it that it was every bit the equal of my Croaker. My expectations were high, and I told him that his expectations should be high, too. I asked our server – who was simultaneously aloof, and chatty – if we could have a rush on an order of Parker House Rolls (I know my son well enough to sense the dreaded EYOSS looming (Eighteen-Year-Old Starvation Syndrome), even though he’s always too polite to say anything, even to me (damn it, I’ve been trying to change this to no avail)). The server acknowledged this, but warned us that they’re cooked to order (great!), and that they take 5-6 minutes. No problem!

And once again, I ended up apologizing to my son after the meal for pumping up his expectations. As so often happens, I’ll go to a restaurant, rave about it to someone, then take them there, and end up explaining that “it really *was* fantastic – please believe me!” My son is savvy enough (and familiar enough with his pop) to know I’m right, but others whom I don’t know so well, aren’t, and so there have been numerous occasions when my bonafides have undoubtedly been questioned – this meal would have been no exception.

I could go start-to-finish, and explain why every single thing was a disappointment, relative to my first visit, but instead I’ll simply say that the *worst* thing I had on my first visit (the radish salad, I suppose) was better than the *best* thing I had on my second visit (the Shrimp Cocktail, I would guess). I asked my son – who has a critic’s palate – to name his favorites, in order, and he pointed to the Shrimp Cocktail, the Beef Tartare (that’s the 18-year-old in him), the Mahi-Mahi, the Squash Blossoms, and the Crispy Redbor Kale. The Parker House rolls clearly came from the same recipe, and although I watched him bite into one and nod his seal of approval, he didn’t swoon like I was sure he would; I picked one up and immediately *felt* why – the execution was botched. The tops of the rolls were thicker and harder, the mie drier, and the flavor not what it was before. This was symptomatic of the entire meal, and the only other common dish – the Crispy Redbor Kale – was so genuinely disappointing, that Brine dropped multiple notches in my mental notebook. The kale wasn’t even crispy – it was just leaves of kale, and instead of disintegrating when you bit it, you had to chew them like a salad. The grated tomato was much pinker and more watery, although the simple syrup (or sugar, or whatever sweetener they use) was there in abundance. I had no interest in the Beef Tartare, and since my son liked it, I gave it all to him after taking one small bite of everything, and the Mahi-Mahi was nothing like the one I saw on my first night. The Squash Blossoms, so incredibly appetizing when our server was enthusiastically describing them, were bitter, oily, and nothing special at all. And that reminds me: Our server spent a great deal of time describing “specials” that were written on the menu exactly as he described them, the squash blossoms being but one example. Also, he asked us if we were familiar with the menu – I told him I was, but my son wasn’t, and then looked down at the table so he’d describe things to my son. I wish he would have spent more time looking at my son (who is an adult) instead of to the man with his head down, not wanting to be looked at. He was a nice man, but not a particularly skilled server – the Parker House rolls took a bit longer to arrive than they should have, and there was confusion when I ordered a second beer, as another server got to me first after seeing my glass was empty; a couple minutes later, our server came and asked if I wanted another. Nothing was so bad on the service front, but the troops could use a little more training, and I just had this gnawing feeling that the friendliness wasn’t quite as genuine as it seemed.

After my first visit, I ranked Brine in Italic in the Dining Guide, and even ranked it ahead of Gypsy Soul as the #1 restaurant in Merrifield. Not so. While it still merits an Italic rating, it is now well behind Gypsy Soul in the Merrifield neighborhood, and if Chris Watson hadn’t left Ovvio Osteria, it would be well behind them, too. As it stands, based on the strength of my first visit alone, Brine is ranked as the #2 restaurant in Merrifield, and let me tell you: That isn’t saying much. Potential? Oh yeah. But I knew even after my first visit that it would be nearly impossible to sustain such an extraordinary level of quality in a restaurant that’s this large – one thing Brine has going for it is a relatively small menu, and I urge them to keep it that way so that things can stay manageable. This will be a very popular restaurant, and the crowds will come – this review will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows, but not enough to affect the masses of people that will be frequenting Brine. After my first visit, as I was walking back to my car, a very friendly person was outside Sisters, the restaurant right next door to Brine, politely but aggressively asking if I’d like a carryout menu. Clearly, they know that they have some competition on their hands with Brine. Maybe so, but on my next visit to this building – which may not be for awhile – Sisters is going to get a fair shake from me. John Critchley, if you’re reading this (and I know you are), please *teach*. If you were there Friday early evening, but absent Sunday evening, then you are the key person that this restaurant is hinging upon. Teach your staff, and teach them well – they need it, trust me. If you were running the kitchen early Friday evening, then you are one hell of a Chef de Cuisine, but you know that you can’t work every hour of every day – it is absolutely imperative that the off-night kitchen is able to emulate, or at least approximate, the A-team; otherwise, how can we rely on Brine as a first-rate restaurant, which is exactly what it has the capability to be?

Screenshot 2015-07-17 at 23.32.38 Screenshot 2015-07-17 at 23.32.21

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Full Kee, Bailey’s Crossroads

Full Kee in Bailey’s Crossroads is completely unrelated to the Full Kee in Chinatown and the Full Key in Wheaton. It is an independent restaurant that’s open until 2 AM, 7 days a week (!), and does not get enough love in this or any other community. I have had it ranked in Italic in the Dining Guide for years, but haven’t visited it in far too long; I decided to give it a thorough follow-up, and visited three times.

First of all, take note that Full Kee (website) advertises being open until 2 AM, 7 nights a week – that alone puts it in a tiny handful of DC-area restaurants of any quality that can make such a claim.

On my first visit, for a consistency check, I ordered the exact same dish I last had here a couple of years ago, from the “Casserole” section of their menu: Beef Brisket with Turnip Casserole (Nồi Bò Kho Củ Cải Trắng), $14.95. This dish was exactly the same as I remember from before: steamed rice, with a stew-like casserole set into thick, brown sauce (I almost want to say “gravy”), featuring two things, and two things only: large, barely-bite-sized pieces of brisket, with plenty of tendon thrown into the mix; counterbalanced by equally large pieces of turnip, cooked until soft (which is not always the case with turnip). To get the most out of this dish, I recommend managing your bites to include both small pieces of brisket and/or tendon, as well as turnip, in the same bite; rather than alternating between the two. Of course, you can always begin by alternating, but you’ll quickly see that the bitterness of the turnip is necessary to combat the rather extreme nature of the tendon, which this kitchen is not shy about adding – I’d say that in terms of the beef portion alone, it’s about two-thirds brisket, one-third tendon. It’s a rich, satisfying, filling dish that is fully on the mild side, and really isn’t all that complex – it features primal flavors of beef and tendon, bitterness and softness from the turnip, and some salt from the brown sauce. It needs to be eaten hot, and is really enough for two people to share (preferably with a green; by itself, it’s too much of a good thing, and at $14.95, it’s very gently priced for the quantity of food that you get).

I remembered the clean fish tanks at Full Kee (and they are still clean), but the hanging, roasted whole ducks and chickens in back, near the pass, had slipped my mind. I made it a point on my first visit to ask my server about their whole chickens, and they serve them two ways: Soy Sauce Chicken (Gà Xì Dầu) and Ginger Scallion Chicken (Gà Hấp Muối) are both $23.95, and are the exact same amount of food (a whole chicken, cleaved, with some steamed rice). I knew I was going to get a whole chicken, and would have enough for two meals, so I called it in as a carryout order, and ordered the Soy Sauce rendition. Also wanting to try their seafood, and get a vegetable, I killed two birds with one stone by also ordering the fascinating-sounding Eggplant Stuffed Shrimp Paste in Black Bean Sauce (Cà Tim Dồn Tôm Tương Đen) for $13.95, which pretty much left me without a clue as to what, exactly, I would be picking up. Okay, so, how best to describe this? Let’s start with the chicken, which comes in a very large, rectangular, aluminum baking pan (with lid) – probably 2 feet by 1 foot in dimension. Inside the pan, I found a cleaved chicken (with the head thrown in, but no feet, so be on the lookout for the head), and also a little plastic tub of … minced ginger and scallions – I had gotten the wrong order, but I hadn’t realized that at the time. So I went rooting around in the paper bag for my soy sauce, which I assumed I’d need to pour over the chicken, and found a surprisingly large container of a thickened sauce which surprised me, as I figured the chicken would just be lying there in watery-thin soy sauce. I decided I’d reheat it in the oven, so I dumped the container of sauce on top, and … oops … it was my other entree. What this entree was, is diagonally sliced pieces of eggplant, stuffed *with* shrimp paste (now it finally made sense), and what I thought was inexplicably thickened soy sauce, was the black bean sauce. So now, I had on my hands a giant, ten-pound, cooking tray with everything except the steamed rice. Fortunately, I was able to bore out some space for the stuffed eggplant – then I dumped the little tub of ginger and scallions onto the chicken, added another small tub of soy sauce (which was in the bag) onto the chicken, made sure both dishes were separated, put the lid back on, and heated it in a 350-degree oven for awhile.

What emerged was nothing short of spectacular. Even though the chicken – which had been picked up at something close to room temperature – was roasted earlier in the day, it reheated beautifully, and I don’t feel the least bit of guilt for reheating a dish that’s served “slightly warm” in the restaurant – I like *hot* chicken and I just can’t lie. Maybe got back in about 10-15 minutes to unveil my re-interpretation, and everything was just wonderful. I’m glad I kept the two dishes completely separate, because although they were wonderful as compliments to each other, they would be ridiculous mixed together. That said, a little dab of black bean sauce did absolutely nothing to hurt the pieces of chicken; nor did mixing the soy sauce in with the ginger and scallions. The other dish, the shrimp paste-stuffed eggplant, was tailor made to be had alongside (or on top of, if you’re a heathen like me) the steamed rice, and these pieces of eggplant were just terrific. You can picture the shrimp paste – it has that same texture as the classic Thai appetizer, Tod Mun (fish cakes), except that it’s shrimp paste of course. And I was left staring down a sultan’s feast of an entire roast chicken, delicious stuffed eggplant, and enough food for three people. Needless to say, I had this again for lunch the next day, and recommend both, although I personally am not a fan of cold, cleaved, (invariably frozen) chicken, so if you’re a white boy like me, I recommend getting this to go, and reheating it for 10-15 minutes in your oven, and with 1-2 other things, such as my eggplant and a green (there’s no reason not to round out your meal by getting a green) you’ll have a no-fuss dinner for your entire family, and you’ll love it, too. Seriously, when it comes to carryout food, this is about as good as it gets.

On my third visit, I doubled down on the roasted birds, despite being sorely tempted by the Scallop Stuffed Shrimp Paste (undoubtedly the same dish I had, but with scallops instead of eggplant). Instead, I went for the Big Daddy, the most expensive dish on the menu, the Whole Peking Duck ($28.95). And a wonderful Peking Duck it was, too, my only quibble being a fairly important one: it wasn’t cut as well as a Peking Duck should be. In particular, it relied on uncut legs for much of the crispy skin, as opposed to having it shaved from the body meat (that was there too; just not enough of it). Other than that, it was $28.95 well-spent, and the pancakes were of good quality, albeit in slightly short supply. It would have been more in proportion to get 2-3 more pancakes, but they had a very neutral scent, and that is not always the case with this dish – often you will get pancakes that smell of rancid oil (I’m sorry to tell you that and ruin your next Peking Duck, but it’s often true). I want to give this dish another try here, because I think they can do even better – it was an off-night, and I’m unconvinced their “A-List” Duck Cutter was working on this evening. For now, I have to say it’s better than average, and certainly in the very good category, but it’s not quite at the top level of Peking Ducks that I’ve had in this town. (Mark’s Duck House, in its prime, may get that prize, but I’ve also had good versions at Duck Chang’s and Peking Gourmet Inn as long as twenty years ago – it’s time for someone (me?) to do a city-wide Peking Duck evaluation). I adore this dish, I have no clue if it’s authentic or Americanized, and I don’t care – I adore it.

So Full Kee batted 4-for-4 in my three visits, with not a clunker in the bunch, but with some dishes showing greater potential than actual greatness. They remain in Italic in the Dining Guide, and must be considered one of the best, if not *the* best Cantonese restaurant in Northern Virginia right now – granted, that’s not saying all that much, but it’s saying something. Chinatown in San Francisco this is not, but especially with the whole-chicken dishes, you probably won’t go wrong at Full Kee, unless you go to the wrong Full Kee.

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Pho Deluxe, Fairfax

For those who haven’t clicked on the links, Pho Deluxe is a local chain that also has locations in Fairfax and Tysons Corner.

JSnake, on 02 Jul 2015 – 4:45 PM, said: Any good?

No.

I felt badly that I hadn’t been when you asked about it, so I made it a point to go to the Fairfax location of Pho Deluxe, and get a Large #38 – Phở Tái, Chín Gân ($9.95) , and I was terribly disappointed by my soup.

Seasoned pho-goers know that pho houses serve the best pho, and Vietnamese restaurants usually do a relatively poor job at it – it’s a specialty item, that is best done alone, or not at all. However, Pho Deluxe falls right at the midway point of being a pho house and a Vietnamese restaurant – it looks like a pho house, it acts like a pho house, but the menu is much more extensive, with about ten difference sections other than pho.

What this meant is that my pho was placed in front of me, and I immediately performed my pre-first-bite ritual: I broke the basil, put in the sprouts, and then flip-flopped the noodles and the sprouts, so the sprouts would cook on the bottom of the bowl, and the noodles would rest on top and not overcook. Then, without adding any seasoning, I took my spoon, and took a spoonful of broth – this is the moment de la vérité as they might have said during the French colonization. Well, the broth tasted mostly of hot, sodium-ridden liquid, without much discernible beef fat, and without much other flavoring. One spoonful is all I needed to know that this was a below-average bowl of pho.

If you ever seen me in a pho house, you can tell what I think by what I add: If I add nothing, then it’s great pho; if I add a bit of Sriracha and plum sauce – just a bit, because I think these two items are garbage food, and the twenty-something chefs who think its “cool” to use Sriracha in dishes are generally garbage chefs, then it’s decent pho; if I squirt out the Sriracha and plum sauce so that it makes the type of noise that has the entire restaurant turning around, you know it’s pretty much like this was – dilute, and most often made from starter mix. Obviously I didn’t see it being cooked, so I can’t say for sure how it’s made, but I will say they did a splendid job of imitating how bad pho should taste. Furthermore, we’re as close as we can come to cracking the unthinkable ten-dollar barrier – does anyone else remember the halcyon days of Pho 75 when a bowl was $4.95 and you left a dollar bill for a tip? Well, those days are gone, I’m afraid.

To add insult to injury – and this is no fault of the restaurant’s – I got a can of Diet Coke ($1.35) on the way out, and damned if this wasn’t a bad batch: it tasted like club soda, without even the superficial pleasures of artificial sweeteners so that I can pretend I’m drinking sugar. I thought my palate might have been tainted, but, no, this was a bad can of soda, as thirty minutes later, it still tasted pretty much like club soda (it *smelled* like Diet Coke, for whatever that was worth).

The Fairfax Pho Deluxe is in the front part of the shopping center that contains a whole host of stores that nobody every discusses – it’s the shopping center near Fairfax Circle with Artie’s, Bowl-o-Rama, and Lotte. As for the upcoming Courthouse location, I’ll let others fill me in on how that one’s doing; I’ve had enough for the time being. One interesting thing about their menu is that they explicitly state that their pho is available without cilantro for those who are sensitive to its flavor – I don’t remember ever seeing that before.

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Pizzaiolo Cafe on Fern, Fairlington

goodeats, on 29 Jun 2015 – 10:28 PM, said:

I was very sad to discover that the Shirlington location served cardboard cheese pizza now. Maybe it was because it was delivery, but I was rather disappointed with their cheese pizza ordered two weeks ago…lacked flavor, pizza very flat, cheese had no flavor, crust was hard, and even the boys (playdate) didn’t really want seconds….

I went to Pizzaiolo Cafe on Fern in Fairlington for the first time Wednesday evening, having absolutely no idea what to expect. I have fond memories of when Cafe Pizzaiolo first opened on 23rd Street in Crystal City – it was really good pizza, both the Neapolitan and the New York Crusts.

Let me start by saying something positive: This is a nice little bar to have good beer (they have six taps of fairly serious beers) and watch sports on either of their two flat-screen TVs. I started my meal with a pint of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, flanked by The Lonely Divorcée on my right (who was somewhat show-offy to the server, and loudly wished me “Bon Appetit!”), and The Yeungling Demander on my left (who complained that his Peroni wasn’t “amber” like Yeungling), and I overheard my friendly bartender (everybody is really laid back and friendly here) mention that Wednesday night is 2-for-1 pizza night. Two-for-one pizzas! I immediately knew what I was having for lunch the next day.

Since things were half-price, I went ahead and got two large pizzas: one to eat in, and the second to go, and figuring that I’d try to be as helpful as possible to our readers, decided to get one Neapolitan crust, and one New York crust to compare. I also figured that the Neapolitan crust would be better then-and-there, so I got that one to eat in, and the New York crust to go.

For my eat-in, Neapolitan pizza, I got a large Caprese ($16.99, but $8.50 at half-price) with fresh mozzarella, chopped roma tomatoes, garlic, sea salt, olive oil, and fresh basil (sounds like a no-brainer, right?), and as soon as it arrived, I knew it was a disaster. To start with, I have never seen more chopped tomatoes or more garlic on any pizza in my life – it looked like someone had shot both of these from a fire extinguisher, and the “Roma tomatoes” tasted old and of industrial quality, with a taste that was nearly metallic. No other topping mattered because there was such an enormous quantity of these other two, that the pizza could have come with hot fudge on it, and I wouldn’t have noticed. It was disgusting, it was the worst pizza I’ve had in memory, and I’m ashamed of myself for eating half of it, but I had just come from the gym and I was *starving*. If it’s any salvation of my credibility, I told my bartender to just give the second half to the kitchen staff (I was originally going to box it and take it home, but there was no way I was ever going to even look at this thing again). One other thing I should mention is that the crust was in no way Neapolitan, and was oversalted to a San Andreas fault.

Stuck with a second pizza, I left it out overnight, and took a peak at it the next morning. This one was the New York crust, a large La Famiglia ($17.99, $9.00 at half-price) with mozzarella, potato, bacon, roasted garlic, sliced tomato, and grana parmesan. Considering how low my expectations had fallen, I was pleasantly surprised … no, make that darned near amazed at this pizza, which was not only edible, but very close to being pleasant. First of all, absolutely get the New York crust – even after sitting out overnight, it was worlds better. The “potato” topping was thick (and I mean 1/2-inch thick) slices of fingerling potatoes which, when eaten with the grana parmesan, were darned good by themselves, especially considering they had been flavored with the bacon topping (not just bacon grease, but bacon). Would I come back here for this? No, but I have to say that I came pretty close to enjoying it, and nibbled on it throughout the day, heating it in my oven on two separate occasions. Needless to say, when faced with these two choices, go with the second one; run like the devil from the first.

And remember the bar, the pleasant staff, the flat-screen TVs, and the six worthwhile draft beers at the ready.

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Bob & Edith’s Diner, South Arlington

I’ve been up at the crack of dawn numerous times of late, and since I basically refuse to eat fast-food, that leaves me with precious few options for breakfast. However, I have had three different breakfast sandwiches, multiple times each, at Bob & Edith’s Diner, and feel very comfortable guiding you. I’ve had each of these sandwiches two, and sometimes three, times each. A very full breakfast would consist of any two of these sandwiches, coupled with one order of Home Fries ($1.89) – shredded potatoes, grilled and browned on a flat-top, crispy at the edges, soft in the middle, and not over-salted. Anyway, here are the sandwiches, in *ascending* order of quality – all of them are $4.79 each, and the only difference between them is the type, and quantity, of meat.

Good – Bacon, Egg, and Cheddar on English Muffin

Better – Sausage, Egg, and Cheddar on English Muffin

Best – Ham, Egg, and Cheddar on English Muffin

This ordering is generally the reverse of how I would think I’d prefer my breakfast sandwiches, the reasons being as follows:

The bacon is just a couple strips of bacon, not necessarily fried right then, and nothing particularly special. It’s okay, and I might like it more if the egg in the sandwich was runny, but it never is. While not bad, it’s eclipsed in both quality and quantity by the sausage and ham.

The sausage is a crumbly, well-browned patty, not links, and is coarsely ground, very browned, and irregularly cut, making it a pretty thick patty. It’s way above the norm as far as these things go, and you won’t regret ordering it if you enjoy sausage patties. By no means are these pre-cut patties – they’re from a loaf, and really well-fried on the griddle.

The ham is surprisingly good, and surprisingly plentiful. The last time I got two sandwiches (one with sausage, the other with ham), I picked each one up – they were wrapped in paper, and I didn’t peak to see which-was-which – to see if I could discern which was heavier. I switched hands, and in both weigh-ins, I could tell that the sandwich with ham was slightly heavier, and the reason is because they give you a *lot* of ham, and it’s *good* ham. If this was unfolded into one piece, it would be about the size of a football, but it’s folded over in thirds (making three layers), and then again in half (making six full layers of ham) – granted, they’re fairly thin layers, but this is real ham; not processed crap. It’s not at the level of cured country ham, but it’s actual ham, it’s very good, and there’s a lot of it.

There’s your Bob & Edith’s breakfast-sandwich primer for the day. Remember Bob & Edith’s is open 24 hours a day, and they’re happy to accept phone-in orders for pick-up.

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The Dairy Godmother, Del Ray

(Read the Mar 5, 2012 Minibite here.)

I was having a relatively rare hell-bent sweets craving the other evening, and had dinner (yes, dinner) at The Dairy Godmother, which was absolutely packed, with a line inside extending all the way to the end of the zig-zagging dividers, and wrapping around back into the restaurant with the back heading towards the restroom area (mercifully not out the door). It took a good ten minutes to reach the front, but like usual (although it had been awhile, probably over a year), it was worth it. I got a Large Sundae ($4.21, which, with tax, rounds up to an even number) with fresly extracted chocolate-vanilla custard side-by-side, the free almonds topping, my other topping (crushed nuts because I didn’t feel like fruit), and no whipped cream even though it was gratis. This was a very small “large,” but I thoroughly enjoyed it once I resisted the street temptation to start in on it walking down Mount Vernon and E. Del Ray Avenue. The Dairy Godmother remains as it has always been: a gem, rivaled only inside the beltway by what Frozen Dairy Bar *used* to be. This little sundae, very small for a “large” by today’s standards, is enough to keep The Dairy Godmother strongly ranked in Italic in the Del Ray portion of the Dining Guide.

“The Mother of Us All” (1947), libretto by Gertrude Stein, music by Virgil Thomson.

Please read this post from the Oldest Restaurants in the Washington, DC Area thread.

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Mussel Bar & Grille, Ballston

(See the Jan 23, 2011 Review here.)

Once more to Arlington. The mussels were very good. The beer was good, although I’m pretty sure my first glass was not what I ordered.

I had the opposite problem as agm: the beer and mussels were both very good, but the mussels were not what I ordered.

This evening, I went into the Ballston Mussel Bar & Grille, in the old Bob Peck Chevrolet building, on which they retained that classic diamond-rimmed arc, and even have a plaque on the sidewalk – many thanks to all involved for keeping some of the original character of that classic building. The bar is full of happy-hour activity from 5-7 PM, with notable – but not huge – discounts given on beer and wine – these prices are fairly expensive, so their discounted prices are still fairly substantial money-makers for them, especially given the added volume.

Sticking with drafts Troëgs Hopback Amber Ale ($5 at happy hour), I noticed that Mussel Bar had 108 bottles beers and 16 drafts (that is a *lot* of bottled beer!). The Hopback is not all that hoppy, in fact, the “Hops” take something of a “Back” seat (see what I did there?), and this is more of a Scottish Ale – amber-red, but lower in alcohol and even pleasantly mild, but having full flavor (it is, after all, brewed in Hershey, PA).

Also taking note of the $10 half-order of mussels happy hour specials for dinner, I got a half-order of Kennett Square Mushroom Mussels (usually $16), but the runner brought out a different prep: the White Wine Mussels (usually $15), and in retrospect, this was probably my fault; not theirs – he was looking around, trying to figure out whose order it was, and I flagged him down, and he put it in front of me. Well, I’m sorry someone else got my order, but I’m glad I got this – the broth is like a New England Clam Chowder: cream-based, with a *lot* of lemon, a half-head of soft, roasted garlic (sliced horizontally) resting in the bottom-center of the cast-iron skillet, parsley, and presumably some white wine, making for a delicious mussel broth. I made the decidedly foolish decision to try and count my mussels in this half-order to give diners some perspective, and gave up, deciding that there were about 50 mussels – over 4-dozen – and they were very tiny, each mollusk being the size of a large English pea, so the work involved in extracting and eating them was considerable, and even eating non-stop, it took me about 15-20 minutes to get through the order, not that I was complaining. I prefer small-sized shellfish in general, and while these were somewhat on the chew side, so what? For $10, this was a fantastic thing to order – a plate of about 5 slices of freshly heated bread showed up about ten minutes into my meal, and I immediately placed them into the broth to begin saturation, then flipped them after several minutes – they served as oyster crackers, and they served me well.

The only problem with this meal was the service – it’s a noise-box, just like so many other bomb shelters in North Arlington, and there were several distinct problems in communicating my needs – my second beer, for example, and when I finally got around to needing the check, I became The Invisible Man, having to wait several minutes before I even got any eye contact. It got to the point where I picked up my receipt, credit card in hand, and held it up to my chest so that anyone casting even the slightest glance would see the situation. I didn’t do this in any sort of aggressive fashion (I hate diners at bars who are aggressive in trying to get bartenders’ attention, essentially butting in line); but I decided it was the only way I’d be noticed, and even *that* didn’t work, as it took a couple of minutes even after assuming that position – the bartenders were off chatting with customers, or doing other things, and it was probably just a coincidence that nobody walked by during that seemingly interminable slice of time.

Nevertheless, I ordered according to the strength of this restaurant: happy-hour draft beer and happy-hour mussels, and so I got the biggest bang for the buck, rather than something another diner might find during non-happy-hour times and prices. My advice is to go here between 5-7 on weekdays, and order exactly what I did – you’ll be pleased. I turned down the slight up-sell of frites or sweet-potato fries, figuring the bread would be sufficient starch, and I was right – I also saw both the frites and sweet-potato fries on the way in, and they looked extremely greasy, and rather unappealing.

So you can consider this a good review of Mussel Bar & Grille, but also a review that happened to play into the restaurant’s strengths. Parking is readily available in the garage on either side of N. Glebe Road (but not the back side) for $2 an hour – the restaurant is right on the corner of N. Glebe Rd. and Wilson Blvd. – make sure to remember your ticket, as it’s an un-manned garage, and you’ll need to pay at the pay stations at the bottom of the elevators, which shoot you right up near the entrance of the restaurant, which, by the way, has a very pleasant patio on the N. Glebe Rd. side.

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Osteria da Nino, Shirlington

Osteria da Nino, not Samuel Beckett’s Tavern, is the best restaurant in Shirlington.

First, let me add that I went back to Samuel Beckett’s Tavern for a late supper the other evening, and only the bar menu was available. Starting off with a New Belgium Shift Lager, a respectable session beer that’s as good as anything I’ve found at Samuel Beckett’s, I went straight for the 800-pound gorilla that I’ve always avoided ordering here: Sam’s Lamb Burger ($14), fresh ground lamb mixed with spices, and topped off with Cashel blue cheese, served with hand-cut chips and lettuce, tomato, and onion on a sesame-seed roll. This burger was huge – probably 10-12 ounces, cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and came positively slathered with a Cashel blue cheese sauce (I have visited the Cashel farm in Ireland, adore this cheese, and had every reason to be “pulling for” this sauce, but this was just gloppy and gross); the tub of ketchup and extremely garlicky mayonnaise for my fries went completely untouched (except for a fingertip-taste of the mayonnaise to gage the garlic). This sandwich was over-the-top, and while the lamb was of good quality (how often do you see such a large lamb-burger topped with Cashel blue?), it was simply too much gook – I ended up opening up my roll, scraping off the sauce, and eating the meat alone. Many people order this sandwich, and I suspect many people like it, but it’s just too much for me, and I’ll stick with more refined cooking here the next time I come. Onward!

I took hopsing’s post about Osteria da Nino very seriously when I read it, and kidnapped my young dining companion last night, smuggling him into Shirlington – Osteria da Nino is very close to Carlyle, but since it’s one building off of “the strip,” it was completely dead. This is a restaurant you have to know about in order to find it, and it’s going to need to get some publicity out there in order to succeed, especially at dinnertime. And succeed it should, because right now there’s nothing else this good in all of Shirlington. The Beef Wellington I had the other night at Samuel Beckett’s was certainly right up there, but that was a daily special, and I’m unconvinced Beckett’s can produce cooking of that high level of quality when the pub is crowded; perhaps it can.

I started off with a glass of Pinot Grigio ($8) as we waited for our two appetizers to split, and as soon as they hit the table, I knew we had found what has been missing from Shirlington for so long with Osteria da Nino – a somewhat spacious, spartan restaurant that could use a bit of warmth and interior design to bring together the cold-feeling hard surfaces into something resembling, dare I say, the product of a woman’s touch.

Fritto Misto ($12) was a large cone containing some unusual and delicious fried items: shrimp, salmon, and fennel (the fennel being the only miss, being cut too large and not cooked quite long enough) – still, this was an excellent rendition of fritto misto that is well-worth ordering. Seasoned perfectly by itself, it did not need the garlic-curry mayonnaise dipping sauce it came with, but we used it in moderation anyway. Delicious, and a good contrast to our Insalata Burrata ($10), a fantastic combination of burrata, cherry tomatoes, plums, nectarines, and a bit of pesto – I’m not sure where the chef got this recipe from, but it works, and it works brilliantly. If this dish, or a variation of it, is on the menu, order it.

Garganelli con ragù di maiale ($17) was a good-sized bowl of piping hot garganelli pasta, with Papa Weever Farms pork ragu, fennel, spices, gremmalata, parmesan, and baby arugula. There was nothing surprising about this dish (unlike with the burrata), but it was satisfying, and a well-conceived foil to the Filetto di Branzino ($24) which came with a fascinating brick-sized rectangle of Sicilian tahboli (yes, it’s the same thing you’ll get in a Lebanese restaurant, except with pomegranates), arrabiatta sauce, and crispy faro. The sea bass was cooked by someone who knew what they were doing, with its skin crisped just the way you wanted it.

“The Rules” of being a restaurant critic say you aren’t supposed to judge a restaurant after one visit, but I’ve never been one to follow rules. This is a very exciting, promising restaurant, and is so much better than anything I’ve ever had in Shirlington (Beef Wellington notwithstanding) that I’m making a beeline in its direction the next time I head down S. Quincy Street.

Parking is plentiful in a lot just behind the restaurant.

An important addendum: I got a text message from someone who saw this, warning me that their first visit to Osteria da Nino was a wonderful surprise; their second visit had more inconsistencies. Doesn’t it figure that the *only* time I ever question critics’ standards, is the time I get called out for possibly jumping the gun! :) Anyway, I’m not at liberty to go into detail, but you’ll probably read more about this later.

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Buzz Bakery, Alexandria

I set up my workstation at Buzz Bakery, armed with a Large Americano ($3.30), fortified by a somewhat expensive Extra Shot ($1.00). Buzz uses Ceremony Coffee Roasters, based in Annapolis. Note that Ceremony, in addition to having their roastery in Annapolis, is opening up a coffee house in Mount Vernon in Baltimore (up by our nation’s first Washington Monument, started in 1815 and finished in 1829, designed by famed architect Robert Mills (who also originally designed the more famous Washington Monument in Washington, DC). Mills also designed substantial parts of the Department of the Treasury building between 1839 and 1842, as well as many other notable Federal projects, ensuring his place among the pantheon (ironically) of legendary architects of Washington, DC and the the United States of America in general).

I also had a Gala Apple Fritter with Spiced Glaze ($2.50).

Despite all the rich history and “Buzz” surrounding Ceremony, my Americano was unacceptably bitter – every bit as bitter as a Starbucks roast, and needing every granule of turbinado sugar poured into it (I love raw sugar in my Americanos – it adds not only sweetness, but texture, as I don’t even bother stirring the drink. When faced with the choice of turbinado sugar or simple syrup, I’ll generally opt for turbinado sugar with iced Americanos. I let it sink to the bottom, then mash my straw all the way down there, making sure to get at least one crystal with each delightful sip).

The atmosphere of the original Buzz Bakery remains comfortable, although it’s getting a touch worn, adding to its charm. It’s really a nice place to set up a workstation and enjoy some coffee and a sweet, giving the customer a choice of indie rock inside, or a small, charming patio outside, mere steps away from a Capital Bikeshares rack. Have you joined Capital Bikeshares yet? You should, if for no other reason than that it allows you to park where there are actual parking spaces, pick up a bike, and ride it to your destination restaurant. I haven’t actually done this yet, but it’s in the master plan, and yes, I absolutely got the $75 annual membership (it’s now $85). I first saw a setup like this in Copenhagen in 2000, and it seemed so unbelievably progressive and *cool* at the time; I cannot believe it’s here in DC just fifteen short years later – my, how things have changed.

My apple fritter was positively laced with a caramel coating, and I’d be lying if I said the glaze didn’t hit all the right notes. I hate that sweets go so well with coffee, but they do, and so my dessert time is often reserved for the morning, doing a large disservice to our city’s outstanding pastry chefs. Note to all pastry chefs I talked with about a year ago: I apologize for not following through with my piece, but I got legitimately sidetracked in a big, unavoidable way – contact me, and you’ll understand when I explain things to you; otherwise, I’ll be getting back in touch, wanting to continue working on the story, hopefully sometime this year.

Since the extremely talented Tiffany MacIssac left Neighborhood Restaurant Group in May of 2014, and actually even before she left, when she officially moved from Birch and Barley to Buzz Bakery, and perhaps even before that, Buzz had gone downhill from when it first opened. I thought sure I had written Tiffany and said as much, but I don’t see anything in my outbox, so maybe it’s just something I had thought to do – she was destined for bigger and better things from the get-go, and I have no doubt that her already-successful career will continue to vault upward in future years.

I was in the mood for sugar this morning, and the fritter was just what I wanted (the other doughnut on offer was a maple-glazed yeast doughnut with bacon on top – please, God, hammer it into restaurateurs’ heads that the tragic bacon-in-dessert failure-fad is mercifully coming to an end, and please inspire important restaurant groups such as NRG to take the lead in terminating this awful, disgusting use of two otherwise fine items). Anyway, I hadn’t had much sugar in quite awhile now, and this blast of glazed joy was exactly what I wanted this morning; this fritter may be too sweet for some people, but it wasn’t for me, at least not this morning – I had to pace myself not to finish it before finishing my coffee). It was a delicious fritter!

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