Minibites are delicious samplings of Don’s culinary adventures, condensed, distilled, and always meant to be savored with your Monday morning coffee.
The DCDining.com Restaurant Guide, i.e., Le Grand Champ, is located exclusively on donrockwell.com. (For an extra shot, click on the link and enjoy the full thread.)
The Swiss Bakery (Springfield) – One of my (few) knocks on The Swiss Bakery is the lack of savories they offer, and when they’re out of ham-and-cheese croissants (which they were during lunchtime on Sunday), you’re relegated to the pre-made sandwich case. No, it’s not the end of the world, and I still had a pretty good Schinkenwurst Sandwich ($8). This sounds a bit pricey, and I suppose it is, but there was a pretty generous portion of schinkenwurst (schinken mean ham; wurst means sausage, and this is “ham sausage” made of fine-ground ham, coarse-ground ham, and some ground veal, stacked with Emmental (Swiss (this is essentially a German-version of a ham and swiss sandwich)), German pickle, mayo, all on sourdough German rye bread). For a refrigerated case sandwich, it’s not bad at all. (Note that when I say “German” here, I guess I really mean Bavarian-Swiss.) Plus, I took the occasion to buy some cookies: about a half-dozen Chocolate Chip (good here, but not your best choice, because the authentic Swiss cookies are more special), witness about a half-dozen of the life-changing Zimtsternes: frosted, star-shaped ultra-moist cinnamon cookies that are as good as any cookie you’ll ever eat. All of The Swiss Bakery’s cookies, mix-and-match, are $19.95 a pound which sounds like a lot, but it works out to about 75 cents each and oh, trust me, are they worth it. The more “German” the name sounds, the better the cookie tends to be. As great as the zimtsternes were, I’ve had several others that are their equal. Maintained as Excellent in the dining guide, and the best chain bakery in the Washington, DC area. Really, the cookies here are special and worth going out of your way for – please do try them.
Hong Kong Palace (Seven Corners) – This was my second straight less-than great dinner here despite drawing on two old favorites: Cumin Fish, and Beef Egg Foo Yung (both of which I’ve written glowing praise about in the past). While both were pleasant, they were not special – the cumin fish was a bit soggy this time around; previously, it held up for over an hour without fading, and the egg foo yung was pretty ordinary, whereas the first time I wrote about it here, it was probably the best version I’ve ever had, anywhere. So although I’m leaving this at the top of East Falls Church restaurants (ahead of Bangkok Golden and Mark’s Duck House), I’m mentally demoting it from a strong “Very Good” to a weak “Very Good” which brings me to a dilemma: unless you read this paragraph, you’ll never know anything has changed. I cannot in good conscience move this below Bangkok Golden or Mark’s Duck House, at least not yet. But the trend for Hong Kong Palace is downward in my mind.
Andrene’s (Petworth) – Click on the link to “Andrene’s,” Scroll down a couple of posts and see my fuller review. If there’s a better Jamaican-styled dive carryout in the area than Andrene’s, I’d like for someone to tell me what it is. I suspect Negril has better breads (I didn’t have the coco bread here, but Negril’s are quite good), but for long-cooked items, I think Andrene’s is about as good as I’ve had in DC. As I was driving west down Kennedy, from 3rd toward 16th Streets, I was struck by just how many interesting soul-food-looking, possibly Caribbean or African-influenced restaurants I’ve never been to, and what fertile ground this is for the ambitious restaurant writer wanting to cover one of our last uncovered neighborhoods. Upgraded to Very Good, and placed (for now) at the top of Petworth ahead of Moroni and Brothers and W Domku – two other restaurants I’ve been long overdue in visiting.
The Source (Penn Quarter) – The Source lounge was a clangingly quiet refuge from Restaurant Week. My friendly bartender, Woong, was finishing the last of his training shifts on this evening after having recently arrived from Poste. I also enjoyed the pleasant company of Mr. Bob Crowe, a lobbyist from Boston and a regular here, who was enjoying his steamed salmon during a January resolution of healthy eating. My glass of Pinot Grigio was a touch oxidized; my tempura green beans remarkably stacked (think: Citronelle fries circa 2003); and my wok-fried shrimp dumplings somewhat disrupted by their cloying XO sauce. The Source is maintained as Excellent, but with the growing specter of Ed Witt just blocks away, I’m becoming less comfortable with it sitting above 701 in the Penn Quarter section of the dining guide. This, despite the omnipresence (both physically and metaphorically) of the talented Scott Drewno – I’d like to come here and see what this hard-working chef could do off-menu.
The Queen Vic (H Street) – A charismatic, comfy-cozy gastropub featuring hard-to-find British Ales, The Queen Vic is good for what (apologies in advance) ails you. A St. Peter’s Organic Ale ($10) makes me smile each time I see one – which isn’t often – because it could double as a flask of liquor, or medicine, or some other illegal liquid, but a fine British pint of beer it is, enough to make me pack my bags for Suffolk just to pub hop for a few days. I wish my entree had lived up to my liquid prelude, but a daily special (you should look for the specials here on the chalkboards) of Braised Pork Shank with Stump ($19) with a white-bean hash was hard as a rock, and the size of one, too, the dish long on heartiness but short on just about everything else. Service was friendly if somewhat addled (the upbeat manager asked me how my Samuel Smith’s cider was (it was a St Peter’s), also saying “here’s your lamb shank – now that’s a hearty plate of food” when he dropped off my pork shank (the combination of easy-go-lucky smiles and oral typos was funny). Maintained as Good because of the atmosphere, the beer selection, and the congenial attitude of the staff; the food was something less than that.
Wilson Tavern (Courthouse) I’d originally planned on going to Ray’s The Steaks, but a fortuitous parking space on N. 24th Street put me a stone’s throw away from this newcomer which opened in (and still has the diveyness of) the old Kitty O’Shea’s pub. I had absolutely no preconceived notions coming in, and I must stress that this team has only been operating for a few days. We were early diners, and unfortunately I probably got the first Fordham Lager ($5) draft of the day which didn’t taste at all clean; it scared me into the only drinkable bottle I could see, a Brooklyn Lager ($5), mixed in with Bud Lite, PBR, etc. on a very poor bottled beer list (that having been said, Wilson Tavern may have inherited Kitty O’Shea’s beers, and should absolutely not be judged upon their opening list – it is a common problem having to sell through the prior owner’s beers before featuring your own). My young dining companion enjoyed a Diet Coke ($2, refill cheerfully offered). I didn’t know what to think about the menu – it neither appealed to me, nor repelled me, so we ordered a smattering of things. For appetizers, the Gentleman’s Wings ($9), very ordinary (but also quite assertive) Buffalo wings with traditional accompaniments, and the unusual Shiitake Sliders (an obscenely priced $9), three, two-bite sized brioche rolls stuffed with thinly sliced mushroom, aged cheddar and pickle. The food cost of this item couldn’t have been much higher than 15%. For main courses, a split order of Hand Cut Fries ($5) – what I would call “guy fries” (hot, salty, greasy) – accompanied our potentially disastrous Shrimp Po’ Boy ($14) with remoulade and pickle on a baguette. The sandwich was better than we were fearing, with the shrimp deveined (I did not assume that would be the case), and the Farm Vegetable Muffaletta ($10) with tapenade and giardiniera on ciabatta was pleasant enough, but gloppy. That pretty much sums up our meal at Wilson Tavern: pleasant enough, but gloppy. On the way home, my eternal optimist son was playing devil’s advocate about me saying I was initiating coverage as “Average,” searching for positive traits about the meal: “This place is better than average … it’s got unusual things on the menu … the people were nice …” I asked him, “What did you have tonight that you’d order again?” He replied, “Nothing.”
The Little Grill Worker-Owned Collective (Harrisonburg, VA) was a surprise, and a delight in nearly every regard. Rather than me rewrite my review, please click on the link and read about my favorite meal of the entire week. A dive? Yes. Complete with cooks young enough to be my children, with no elevated cooking technique on display, and yet, this breakfast could not have been better. An endearing restaurant – not because I’m a commie, but because of the sheer love, joy, and pride these workers take in putting out a top-notch product, simply made, with care both for the food, and for the customers. A wonderful, unique breakfast experience that everyone should try. Initialized as Very Good and Noteworthy, with the addenda that it’s dirt cheap, and merits a detour if you’re anywhere near Harrisonburg during breakfast hours. If I were a JMU student, I would live here; I might even work here. DCDining.com’s Restaurant Of The Week.
Earth & Tea Cafe (Harrisonburg, VA) – A large pot of Chinese White Tea ($5) with lots of silver tips, a WiFi plug, a comfy chair, and an empty teahouse late in the afternoon provided me with perfect working in environment on Saturday. There isn’t much to mention other than that they served me a large pot of tea, and allowed to sit there as long as I wanted to working away on my WiFi. I love tea- and coffeehouses that allow patrons to do this, but I fear they’re a dying breed – how could they not be? People come to sit for hours, spend mere dollars, and then leave? My bill was $5.55, I left a $2.00 tip, and then stuffed the (pooled) tip jar with another dollar still. I’m not sure if there’s anything more I can do to help the cause (think of the dying café culture in Paris), but it’s a good time to remind WiFi squatters to tip their servers well, maybe buy a pound of coffee on the way out, etc.
Element (Front Royal, VA) – I’ve eaten here twice recently, and this visit only reconfirms the first, also reminding me to try Apartment 2G upstairs. Our server, Joe Fletcher, is an ex-Arlingtonian with a genuine love of food and wine. He knows Jeff White from Glen Manor Vineyards, and spoke knowledgeably of his wines, particularly the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($29.99, unfinished portion took home); my young dining companion enjoyed his usual Diet Coke ($1.95). Learning our lesson from a massive quesadilla on our last visit, this time around we split a wonderful appetizer of Mussels in Beurre Blanc ($11) which, needless to say, went smoking good with the Glen Manor – it is one of the few times in my life when I wished I was carrying a thimble because, dammit, I’d have given Matt his first taste of wine to see what a pairing can be like. Slightly dense focaccia accompanied the mussels (and also came with an olive dipping sauce with black pepper). For entrees, we stayed with a proven winner: Pan-Roasted Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, Spinach, and Au Jus ($12), the best twelve-dollar dish you’ll find, anywhere, and this, for the second straight time. A fabulous chicken that cries out Thanksgiving Dinner, the only knock this time around is that it was a touch, just a touch, undercooked in the middle of the breast meat. Get this chicken dish if you come here, trust me. I could not resist Quails with Shiitake-Bread Stuffing ($20) although I probably should have because the insides of the quails were quite raw (purple, albeit warm to the touch; I only let Matt try the leg meat). A potentially good dish, made especially so by the fine stuffing (yes, actually stuffed into the birds) and excellent grilled spaghetti squash, this is a tough one to pull off to the correct temperature unless you cook it often. More than forgivable after one bite of the bizarre Stacy’s Chocolate Mousse Peppermint Pavlova ($6), a cool, refreshing melange of meringue that kept us both thinking that somewhere within the dessert, we’d find ice cream – but we didn’t. Element is maintained as Very Good to Excellent, bolstered by the wine list, the homemade desserts, the good cooking, and of course by Joe who actually remembered us from several months back. “How have you two been?” he asked us. There is no greater compliment than to be remembered.