White Bread Loaf at Junction Bakery, Del Ray

Junction Bakery (Jan 2, 2019)

We enjoyed the two loaves of bread purchased at Junction Bakery so much that we decided to have our first dinner of 2020 at the Del Ray outlet. While I can’t recommend that people dine here, I purchased another loaf of White Bread ($5.95), and can urge people wholeheartedly to buy their daily bread here.

Dinner here is counter service, with wines purchased from bins while in the checkout line. A lovely Bacci Ciccio Toscana (DOG) ($20) did the trick with the modest cuisine enjoyed here, but the small selection of wines is by no means a guarantee of success – a little knowledge will go a long way here.

A Carolina Gold Rice Bowl ($15.99) with seared filet tips, broccolini, cilantro, house XO sauce, and lime wedge, was adequate – overcooked beef and undercooked rice, but with decent flavors. A Classic Burger ($14.99), ordered “with cheddar instead of American,” was a gooey Big-Mac-ish mess – a double patty (cooked to a full well-done), at least two types of cheese, lettuce, tomato, house-made dill pickles, “Junction sauce” (thousand-island dressing), on a brioche bun. It was dry and painful, but also had almost identical flavors to a Big Mac (which I haven’t had in many, many years), so if this is your sort of thing, order and enjoy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

$10 Corkage Fee (for Wines Purchased at Planet Wine) at Evening Star Cafe, Del Ray

For my final restaurant meal of 2019, I had an exceedingly disappointing dinner at Evening Star Cafe, doubly so because I’ve had such good food at the hands of Jonathan Till in the past – I suspect the date, Dec 30, had something to do with things, as the next two days were holidays. As the old saying goes, “The food was really bad, and there wasn’t enough of it!”

Here’s the menu offered on that evening:

Before dinner, we stopped into Planet Wine next door and put a bottle of 2017 Kermit Lynch-blended “Tiercerolles” Crozes-Hermitage ($36) on hold – everyone should know that all wines purchased at Planet Wine can be enjoyed at Evening Star Cafe for a negligible $10 corkage fee. If you’re planning on getting a red-wine course, I can’t recommend this silky Crozes-Hermitage enough.

Dinner started decently with a Charred Little Gem Salad ($10) with Green Goddess, Pecorino Romano, and Garlic Bread Crumbs. These large, charred greens were somewhat overdressed, but the toppings were pleasantly mild, so their overabundance didn’t sink the ship, so to speak.

The entrees are where the meal fell apart. We had ordered a special of Market Fish (monkfish) atop clam chowder with mussels and crab. A long time after ordering, our (pleasant) server came up and asked us if we’d mind Red Snapper instead of monkfish – no, that would be fine, we said, and it’s a good thing we did, because the entrees arrived not 30-seconds after that interaction. Everything about this dish was quite good – except for the red snapper, which tasted frozen and a bit long in the tooth – but when you mashed up the fish in the sauce, these problems were concealed adequately. The Fennel Pollen Duck ($26), however, had no place to hide. Billed as being served with crispy Brussels sprouts, celeriac, Del Ray persimmons, and pomegranate demi, there were two measly tranches of duck, and they were just plain awful – the picture makes them look better than they were, as they were old enough where they were beginning to turn gray. It isn’t often I detest duck, but this was one of the worst duck dishes I’ve ever eaten – not *the* worst, but easily in the top 10 (I didn’t, couldn’t, finish the second piece, and this could have gone so well with the wine). This was essentially a dish of Brussels sprouts and a piece of persimmon.

Having had lovely cooking under Jonathan Till in the past, I’m assuming he wasn’t working on this evening, and that the food supply was running low for New Year’s – a one-off for Evening Star Cafe, which has consistently been a very good restaurant in years past.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

$30 Bar Dinner at Corduroy, Convention Center, Washington, DC

A last-minute Christmas dinner at Corduroy. They weren’t offering the typical, $30, 3-course bar menu on Christmas, but they were serving at the bar, and everyone in the restaurant had only one menu from which to choose: A $65, 3-course Christmas dinner.

The wine, the bread:

First Course:

Kabocha Squash Soup
Salad of Beets, Carrots, and Goat Cheese

Second Course

Peppered Rare Big Eye Tuna with Sushi Rice and Hijiki
Roast Free-Range Turkey with Sausage Stuffing, Giblet Gravy, Root Vegetable Mash, Potato Purée, Bok Choy, and Cranberry Sauce

Third Course

Bread Pudding, and you know what?

We were so stuffed that we ordered the bread pudding to-go, and we were also so stuffed that we forget to wait for it – the desserts were left at the restaurant, hopefully for our wonderful servers to enjoy after a long Christmas service.

Posted in DC, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on $30 Bar Dinner at Corduroy, Convention Center, Washington, DC

Shrimp Nam-Pla at The Shrimp Lover, Sterling – On the Way to Dulles Airport

It’s amazing we don’t have a thread on The Shrimp Lover (website) a Thai-owned quasi-seafood shack, located in a strip mall just off Route 28, very convenient for Washingtonians traveling to Dulles Airport.

I went for lunch today, had wonderful service at the bar, and a kick-your-butt shrimp plate that’s worth knowing about.

Seated at the bar, I was asked what I’d like to drink – I wasn’t drinking alcohol, so I got a Diet Coke ($2,50, unlimited refills) while I waited for one of the most interesting raw seafood dishes I’ve had in quite awhile: Shrimp Nam-Pla ($12) – five (the menu said six, but I got five) large, split, raw shrimp in a cold, Thai-ceviche-like broth that was a combination of lime, intense salt, pepper, and heat (and I do mean heat), each shrimp topped with a small piece of bitter cucumber and raw garlic, and the entire dish topped with a few basil leaves.

While officially an appetizer, this was more than enough for a small lunch, and while the intensity of the “severe ceviche” might take some getting used to, heat-lovers will really enjoy this. The combination of the dish itself, the wonderful atmosphere, and the uber-friendly staff makes me take note of The Shrimp Lover anytime I’m close to Dulles Airport, and you should too.

Posted in Restaurants, VA | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Shrimp Nam-Pla at The Shrimp Lover, Sterling – On the Way to Dulles Airport

Cheese at Arrowine, Arlington, VA – The Best Wines in the DMV, and The Best Cheese Selection in the USA?

I was in Arrowine (Lee-Heights Shopping Center in North Arlington) last Saturday, buying some wines, and going a little crazy stocking up on cheeses and charcuterie.

As soon as I walked in, I saw some magnums of Terry Triolet Champagne on my right, and then Arrowine President Doug Rosen noticed me and came over to say hello. I also saw and said hello to Vice President Shem Hassen.

I told Doug I was going to be needing some cheese, and he walked me over to an eye-popping, new cheese section, twice as big as it used to be.

“My goodness,” I said. “This place is huge.”

Doug replied, “We’ve doubled the linear footage of our cheese section – it wraps all the way around down there, by the register.”

“You have the best cheese selection in the DMV,” I said.

“We have the best cheese selection in the United States,” he replied. “Or, we will, soon enough.”

I leaned over and whispered in his ear: “The most expensive, too,” I joked.

But you know what? Doug just may be right, and I’m pretty sure I’m wrong: Arrowine has the type of cheese selection that Fairway in New York *used* to have when Steve Jenkins was running the program (Fairway has since declined in a big way).

And yes, it’s expensive, but considering the selection they maintain, and the shape they keep the cheeses in (they’re in immaculate, pristine condition), they aren’t all that expensive.

Arrowine has long had the best wines in the Washington, DC area, but now, their cheese selection is as good as any I’ve ever seen in America.

Have a look for yourself, and make sure to ask for Cheese & Charcuterie Manager Scott Freestone (and while you’re add it, if you’re looking for beer, ask for Beermonger Nick Anderson – also as good as anyone in the DMV).

This place is an embarrassment of riches. I couldn’t capture the entire cheese selection in one photograph.

Posted in VA | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cheese at Arrowine, Arlington, VA – The Best Wines in the DMV, and The Best Cheese Selection in the USA?

Breads at Junction Bakery, Del Ray

Junction Bakery served me well towards the close of 2019: A dear friend dropped by for a visit on Dec 28 (and was forced to suffer through the LSU-Oklahoma game), and we purchased two Junction Bakery Baguettes at Arrowine (Lee Heights Shopping Center, Arlington), as well as an armada of cheese (more on that later). The baguettes from Junction Bakery are just about perfect, and are sold both at the outstanding (for wines and cheeses) Arrowine, and the outstanding (for meats and produce) Organic Butcher in McLean, as well as at the three locations of Junction Bakery itself (Del Ray, Chevy Chase, MD, and Capitol Hill).

On Sunday, Dec 29, there was some leftover baguette, and it was the perfect vehicle for sandwiches, encasing sliced pork tenderloin with a reduced cherry sauce.

On Dec 30th, we had plenty of leftover cheese, but no leftover baguette, so I hopped over to the actual Junction Bakery in Del Ray for a loaf of Ciabatta ($5.95) and White Bread ($5.95). This made for a wonderful (if excessive) Monday lunch, as you can see in the picture:

The Ciabatta (right) was mostly the victim of this meal, and on Dec 31, there remained plenty of the White Bread (left), but nothing novel to go with it for New Year’s Eve. So I went out to MOM’s Organic Market in Mosaic District, and bought some smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers. With some Champagne (and a bottle of 1954 Fuenmayor Rioja thrown in for good measure), we used the White Bread as a quasi-bagel for a New Year’s Eve dinner, watching the strange 2011 film, “The Tree of Life” (which won the Palme d’Or award at Cannes that year).

The breads at Junction bakery were so good that we decided to have dinner there on New Year’s Day. More on that in another post.

Posted in Restaurants, VA | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Breads at Junction Bakery, Del Ray

Coffee and WiFi at Idido’s Coffee and Social House, South Arlington

I don’t often go to coffee houses in South Arlington, but when I do, I go to Idido’s (pronounced, I believe, like a Spanish word). Their website is here.

At this point, I’ve probably been here over a dozen times, mostly for carryout, but sometimes to use their WiFi. Just this morning, I had a fresh-baked croissant (I suspect their croissants are purchased made, but not yet baked, from a vendor). The Spinach Croissant was a bit on the heavy side (it also had a bit of cheese in it), but it’s a better product than you’d expect from a single-store coffee house who isn’t baking from scratch. A Large Americano here is consistently good (they use La Colombe beans, which are perfectly fine).

However, what sets Idido’s apart from many other coffee houses is their invariably friendly service – no matter who is taking my order, they treat it with love (that may sound a bit much for a cup of coffee, but it’s true, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about the first time you go).

There’s one, precious parking space immediately in front of the building (the second one is a handicap space), but there’s also a lot of parking on side-streets and other parking lots less than 50-yards away.

Idido’s is immediately south of Rite-Aid (now a Walgreen’s Pharmacy!), and you’ll miss it if you’re driving down Columbia Pike – if you are, make sure to detour 1/2-block down South Glebe, and try this wonderful place.

Posted in Uncategorized, VA | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Coffee and WiFi at Idido’s Coffee and Social House, South Arlington

Thames Street Oyster House, Fells Point, Baltimore

It’s probably not a bright idea to walk into Thames Street Oyster House at 7:30 on a Saturday night, thinking you’re going to get a table, or belly up to the bar. If you’re going during prime hours, *do* make a reservation, or prepare to have a few drinks standing up.

And so we did – the bartenders keep their own seating list of bar seats available, and it wasn’t so bad waiting (the Nationals were on TV, blowing yet another late-inning lead).

Once we did sit, we were fairly impressed by the relatively high quality of the liquors behind the bar – a Sea Breeze, for example, was made with Stolichnaya – not exactly a boutique vodka, but you can do a lot worse – and there are numerous beers available locally brewed in Baltimore.

Like a miniature golf score card, the raw-bar ordering form is similar in nature to a sushi ordering form – pick up a pencil, and put the number of items in that you want. There are numerous oysters here, and you should make sure to read their descriptions: Mild, with a light brine means just that: mild, with a light brine, and it’s safe to assume that if something is described as brackish, it will be also. On our particular raw bar platter, we were each most impressed with the half lobster tail ($6.25 each, and arguably worth it) – lightly dipped in their white (mildly horseradish-y) sauce, it makes for a good flavor combination. We went clam-heavy just because (and yes, that is one, single prawn back there around 10 o’clock). The raw platters are very good and worth ordering – I’m certainly not prepared to make any comparisons with Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco – which I could gladly have as the final meal of my life – but Thames Street is absolutely worth an evening of yours.

We didn’t get a picture of what I thought was the most special thing: the Chesapeake Blue Catfish Sandwich ($13), the least-expensive of their seafood sandwiches, and the most unusual – I’m assuming the catfish itself came from the Chesapeake, and was buttermilk soaked and fried, served with bibb lettuce, pickles, light mayo (per request), and get this: fried egg and Virginia ham! If you like catfish that isn’t blackened to death, get this sandwich. Too full for anything resembling dessert, we took a stroll over to Oliver’s Wharf Rat, where we noticed five (!) beers on cask, and spent some valuable time there before Lyfting back, stuffed and happy, an evening very well-spent and highly recommended.

Posted in MD, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Thames Street Oyster House, Fells Point, Baltimore

Virginia Peanut and Chestnut Soup at The Mount Vernon Inn, Mount Vernon

Tourist season is approaching, and even at 3:30 PM on a hot, sunny Tuesday, Mount Vernon had its share of crowds – although there was plenty of parking, and you could simply walk up and purchase a ticket ($20 for an adult), the line for the 3:50 PM tour of the mansion stretched to about 75 people – see the left of the photo:

The mansion and grounds close at 5 PM, and 5:30 would be a really good time to visit the Mount Vernon Inn, although if you want table service as summer approaches, I strongly suggest calling for a reservation in advance.

Happy Hour at the restaurant runs daily until 7:30 PM for drinks, Tue-Fri until 7:30 PM for food (there’s a small bar, deep within its labyrinthian set of dining rooms), but Happy Hour here is no bargain – you can save a dollar, maybe two, on a limited subset of the dinner menu, and the drinks offered are no great shakes.

Surprisingly, however, Mount Vernon Inn has several bottles of liquor worth ordering: James E. Pepper 1776 Rye, Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Jameson Irish Whiskey, and most importantly, this is about the only place left in the world to find Rare Wine Company’s special bottling of George Washington Special Reserve Madeira (they used to have .500 ml bottles for sale in the gift shop; I’m not sure if any are left there, but they have it by the glass in the restaurant).

There are two things you should know about the Mount Vernon Inn restaurant: It’s better than it used to be (it used to be abysmal), but regardless of the improvement, it’s still essentially a food-service restaurant – if you can accept the latter, it’s a pleasant, quirky place to dine. Also, if you know a little about beverages, you can find something to drink here (e.g., the Broadbent Vinho Verde, a bracing, dry white wine from Portugal).

Beers, not so much, although I admit to enjoying an ice-cold goblet of their house draft ($6 at Happy Hour – I can’t remember which one it was, but I can remember which one it wasn’t: Devil’s Backbone Lager) after a hot day on the grounds, and before cobbling together a light dinner.

Mount Vernon Inn’s “signature dish” is The Inn’s Famous Virginia Peanut & Chestnut Soup ($7 for a bowl), with roasted peanuts and water chestnuts. Tasting primarily of peanut butter (not unlike many dishes from West Africa), the recipe for this highly promoted soup can be found here. To the best of my knowledge, you won’t find any chestnuts in this soup (although it does have water chestnuts, which aren’t bad), and as for the margarine, well, just look the other way. If you enjoy peanut butter, this soup is a lot better than it looks (it looks horrific, but it isn’t).

And the Caesar Salad ($10 for an entree portion) is better than it needs to be. Made with romaine lettuce, shaved Parmesan, house-made garlic-Parmesan croutons, and elegantly tossed in a house-made Caesar dressing, this salad was ordered solely because the ingredients looked inviting (that’s a polite word for “harmless”), and sure enough, this salad was as good as you could reasonably expect. Also, it’s relatively inexpensive – our server was kind enough to split it for us, and what you see here is only half of the salad.

If you go to Mount Vernon, and you’re hungry, you’ll enjoy your meal at Mount Vernon Inn – the key is not to set your sights too high, and not to get your hopes up. As ugly as that soup may look, this was a very serviceable meal, and we left content and without too much strain on the wallet.

Posted in Restaurants, VA | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Virginia Peanut and Chestnut Soup at The Mount Vernon Inn, Mount Vernon

Fried Anchovy Bones at 2 Amys, Cathedral Heights

2 Amys is a diner’s best friend – the most important restaurant in the history of Washington, DC remains one of its very best, serving such diverse customers as families with infants in strollers, older couples out on date night, and award-winning chefs (chefs eat here all the time).

It’s a well-known “secret” in the DC dining community that the small plates offered at the bar (and which can be ordered in the main dining area) rotate on a regular basis, and is essentially Peter Pastan’s playground for experimenting with new and seasonal dishes.

What isn’t well-known is that legendary bar chef Scott Hager – who became a local celebrity by being drawn on 2 Amys menu (yes, that gentleman with the glasses was Scott) – has left and returned to Chesapeake, Virginia after many years running the food bar here. This Tuesday, the bar food was being made by a gentleman of enormous passion, creativity, and respect for tradition: Rick Cook, who has come from Etto, and who worked at both BlackSalt and at The Grill Room with the legendary Frank Ruta.

Perhaps even less-known is that once or twice a week – sometimes early on Tuesdays and Fridays – the wonderful trilogy of anchovies 2 Amys serves are de-boned, each one by hand, and instead of discarding the bones, they’re lightly coated and fried, resulting in one of the most delicious bar snacks you’ll ever taste – served in a basket atop a white napkin, as if they were potato chips, these bones are the essence of the anchovy, crispy like thin pretzels but with the flavor of the ocean, and not at all sharp. As the anchovies are packed in liquid, they’re salty as you would expect, making them the perfect beer snack.

Alas, this past Tuesday, my dining companion and I saw them sitting out on the bar, having arrived just before 5:30 on Tuesday to an almost completely empty restaurant. We ordered a carafe of the 2015 2 Amys’ ‘No Longer’ Rosé (a classic example of an “orange wine,” which goes perfectly with this – I urge you to try this combination if you get the chance). We were treated to one of the humblest and finest food and wine pairings you could imagine, and our little basket of fried anchovy bones went a shockingly long way – these things are deceptively rich, and even though it didn’t look like much, we ate our fill, and then some.

And it’s a good thing, because there were only *three* orders for the entire evening, and I must re-emphasize: They only de-bone the anchovies once or twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays are your best bet, but you should check before committing). At $4 per order – especially considering the labor-intensive nature of these anchovy bones – this is not a money-maker for 2 Amys; it’s a labor of love, walking the walk when it comes to using the whole animal and minimizing waste – this is precisely what Peter Pastan – and more recently Rick Cook – have always espoused, and it’s on full display here.

Fried Anchovy Bones with a carafe of 2 Amys’ ‘No Longer’ Rosé – a match made in, well, a match made under the sea and under the soil. Get them, and then try anything and everything else you see that looks or sounds good – do not hesitate to turn yourself over to the hands of Rick and the wonderful bartender Allie: They will help you to dine, and to dine well.

Posted in DC, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Fried Anchovy Bones at 2 Amys, Cathedral Heights