Minibites are delicious samplings of Don’s culinary adventures, condensed, distilled, and always meant to be savored with your Monday morning coffee.
TheÂ DCDining.com Restaurant GuideÂ is located exclusively on donrockwell.com. (For an extra shot, click on the link and enjoy the full thread.)
FishnetÂ (College Park) – If Fishnet were located on Knox Road, it would have lines out the door (and probably unaffordable rent); in its charming old house on Berwyn Road, it faces a much tougher challenge, and it’s going to be interesting to see if it can survive. Quality-wise, there is no doubting what chef-owner Ferhat Yalcin is producing: truly fresh fish, purchased whole, and hand cut every single day to make some of the best fish sandwiches the Washington, DC area has ever seen, not to mention “fish sticks” made with hake that will forever change your perception of what a fish stick can be. Four of us went through a large portion of this menu, and there wasn’t a single bad item in the bunch. Look at this! Hand-Cut Fries, very good – Cole Slaw, great – Hake Fish Sticks, great – Grilled Spanish Mackerel Sandwich, very good to great – Balik Ekmek, great – Lobster Roll, at least very good (I only got one tiny bite) – Falafel, at least very good (it’s a heavy, polenta-like falafel) – Soda Selection, great (no alcohol served). Believe it or not, I reheated half the mackerel sandwich the next day in the microwave for thirty seconds, and it was still fantastic, probably because the addicting Turkish tartar sauce soaked into the Panorama ciabatta roll overnight. Fishnet has free WiFi, needs to work on its decor, and has absolutely got to go after neighborhood residents (it’s smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood). And they’re going to need to figure out how to serve beer and wine sooner rather than later. This place could thrive, with lines of budget-minded seafood lovers reaching out into the street; or, it could go belly-up if it doesn’t advertise itself properly and take advantage of getting a beer and wine license. It’s not a cross-town destination, but it is the single best budget fish shack in the entire Washington, DC area. Leaps and bounds better than Surfside, and better than the Georgetown Tackle Box when that restaurant first opened (people forget just how good Tackle Box used to be at first). Fishnet has them all beat, quality-wise, but will it survive? Gosh, I sure hope so, and if you care about supporting quality-minded small mom-n-pop businesses, you will, too. If you find yourself near IKEA, then you’re less than a five-minute drive from Fishnet. Go, and go now before it’s too late – this place deserves your support and business. Coverage initiated as a very enthusiastic Very Good, and marked as Noteworthy for serving the best inexpensive fresh seafood in the entire DC metropolitan area. This place has GOT to succeed. It must! Please make it so.
Han Gang (Annandale) – One of Annandale’s most expensive Korean restaurants, and needlessly so. A hopeless beverage list relegated me to a bottle of Cass ($5), and all seven panchan were very good, but also entirely vegan. One very nice touch about Han Gang was a little bowl of bean soup for an amuse-bouche (this, in addition to my miso soup), as well as a little bowl of what seemed like red-bean pudding that came gratis after the meal. The highlight was my appetizer, a small order of Nokdu Bin Dae Thuck ($6), a really nice, somewhat polenta-like mung bean and vegetable pancake served with dipping sauce. I definitely recommend this (almost surely vegan) dish, especially at the price. I didn’t fare as well with the disappointing Hwae Dup BapÂ ($15), a bowl of mediocre greens with a bunch of low-quality tuna, salmon, and flounder thrown in. Mixed together with the red chili sauce, it became palatable, but by no means was this a good version of Hwae Dup Bap, a dish which I’ve had a good two dozen times in my life. Han Gang has the audacity to charge $50 for a small sashimi platter, $75 for a medium, and an eye-popping $100 for a large. All I can say is: the platters had better be pretty darned big, and the fish had better be a whole heck of a lot better than what I had. My goodness, I wouldn’t roll the dice on these platters unless someone was holding a gun to my head. Service was quite pleasant, and the restaurant is attractive, and taken as a whole, Han Gang is a low-end Very Good restaurant, with the caveat that it can be quite expensive. Perhaps I ordered the wrong thing, but this is all I have to go on and I was mildly impressed at best.
Joe Squared PizzaÂ (Baltimore, Station North) – If you don’t like Joe Squared Pizza, then you need to reevaluate the way you look at life. This dumpy semi-dive, semi-sports bar isn’t much to look at (I was at the one on North Avenue), but boy oh boy is the pizza good. Not just good, but great. I was here on a Tuesday evening, and they had a special where if you buy two bottles of beer, then you get a 10-inch cheese pizza for free (toppings extra). No way I was going to turn that down, so I tried a beer from their extensive selection that I was entirely unfamiliar with: a Kostritzer BlackÂ ($6) from Germany, a lager (believe it or not) with only 4.8% ABV and a refreshing, malty taste that makes me desperately want to find this beer for home consumption (if anyone knows who sells it, could you please write me and let me know?). And yes, you can rest assured that I got two of them to go with my earth-shattering pizza with 6 toppings for the price of 4: it comes with red sauce and mozzarella, but I added capicola, sopressata-salami, Canadian bacon, fresh garlic, artichoke, and mushroom. Doesn’t that sound great? Well, it was! Joe Squared pizza is square, like the original Ledo, but the crust is extremely thin (but durable enough not to break because of the exquisite coal-oven char). Â A 10″ pizza only has four slices, but with six toppings, these slices are easily big enough to fill up a hungry man, and hungry I was. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a pizza this much – I’m not sure if this is considered “gourmet” pizza or “low end” pizza, but regardless of what it is, it’s one of my favorite pizzas in the world. I love it! Coverage maintained as an enthusiastic Very Good, and Noteworthy for both it’s excellent beer selection, friendly, down-home service, and a pizza that I could happily have on my death bed. As I’m typing this, I find myself craving this exact same meal, and wishing that Joe Squared Pizza was in my neighborhood, sigh.
Del Ray PizzeriaÂ (Alexandria, Del Ray) – I’ve been meaning to get in here since President Obama put it on everyone’s radar, and what better time than with my young dining companion. I started with a wonderful Milk StoutÂ ($6) from Longmont, Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company. I’ve had this beer several times now, and seem to like it more each time I try it, the milk sugars somehow cutting through the coffee-like bitterness of the stout. We then split an order of 8 Chicken Wings, SpicyÂ ($7) which were better than the norm (chicken wings are rarely great, but these were quite good; the only dispute was that Matt insisted on blue cheese, whereas I insisted on ranch – a quarrel ensued). Pizza time! We split an Obama-approved Deep-Dish Supreme Clientele ($14) with red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, peppers, black olives, red onions, and mushrooms, and a Thin-Crust Cheese SteakÂ ($14) with red sauce, sliced rib-eye, mushrooms, red onions, and provolone. The toppings, particularly in the cheese steak, were wonderful; the crusts left something to be desired. We had a nice meal at Del Ray Pizzeria, and coverage is maintained as Good, and the restaurant is raised a notch in the Del Ray dining guide. The beer list here falls just short of being Noteworthy, but is quite good and worth knowing about. It was a pleasure, as always, to see Eric Reid once again – I hadn’t seen him since Del Merei Grille closed awhile back.
The Dairy Godmother (Alexandria, Del Ray) What, do you think I’m going to take a 15-year-old for dinner in Del Ray, and *not* go to The Dairy Godmother for dessert? We each had a small cone (he, cake; me, waffle) of Mexican Chocolate Frozen CustardÂ (I don’t remember the price). What a great flavor this was, and I hope they bring it back again, often. The Dairy Godmother is maintained as Very Good and Noteworthy for serving some of the best homemade ice cream in the area. There’s nothing at all not to like here. Thank you, Liz Davis, for owning this fine ice cream shop.
Addie’s (Rockville) – I’m often asked what my favorite restaurant is, and I simply don’t have an answer to that question – it depends on so many different things. But if I was asked what I thought the most underrated restaurant in the area is, I might just say “Addie’s.” Chef Nate Waugaman has been doing fantastic work here for a long time, and has been inexplicably overlooked, both by the professional restaurant critics, and also by the internet. I’ve had Addie’s listed as the number one restaurant in South Rockville since I can remember, and I’ve just never understood why people aren’t positively flipping over the place. And this visit gave me absolutely no reason to change my mind. I started with a housemade Charcuterie Plate with Proscuitto (Brad Parker’s whey-fed hog aged fifteen months), Spicy Fennel Salami, and the amazing Randal Lineback Veal Head Cheese, all accompanied by pickled beets, local watercress, and pickled cherry bomb peppers. Moving on to a glass of 2009Â Domaine de la Chaise Sauvignon Blanc ($10) from Touraine with a fine Bean and Ham Soup ($9) with navy beans, black-eyed peas, green lentils, Benton’s ham foam, grilled baguette and chive oil.Â And finally, this stupendous meal was capped with a glass of 2010 Faiveley Pinot NoirÂ ($10) with a Randal LinebackÂ Veal Scaloppini ($24) with black pepper spaetzle, napini blossoms, braised cabbage, rosemary, and mustard jus. It should come as no surprise that Addie’s, which I’ve consistently had ranked as the #1 restaurant in South Rockville, is maintained as Excellent, is Noteworthy for having a fine wine program in the backwoods of Montgomery County, and is, without any question, DCDining.com’s Restaurant Of The Week. Unfortunately, this review is largely academic, as this past Saturday night is Chef Nate Waugaman’s final night at Addie’s – he’s moving up to Carroll County, to New Market, to open Mealey’s Table in April – needless to say, this will be a restaurant for Baltimore and Washington diners alike to keep a very, very close eye on. Waugaman is a brilliant cook, and deserved much, much more recognition than he got from DC area food critics. Best of luck to you, Nate, although I don’t think you’ll be needing it – your talent more than speaks for itself. For all the details about Mealey’s Table, click here.
The Italian Store (Arlington) It was mid-afternoon, I hadn’t eaten all day, I was starving, and (as my mom used to say) “my eyes were bigger than my stomach.” So I phoned in for a MuffalettaÂ ($8.99). I’ve had muffalettas here before, and there are two noticeable things about them: they are big, and they are salty. Meant to serve two people, it’s round Sicillian bread, over stuffed with mortadella, provolone, smoked prosciutto & genoa
salami, topped off with olive condite and olive oil dressing. And they’re just perfect with a bag of Route 11 potato chips, or at least they usually are; on this occasion, the bread was unusually dry, and the sandwich just wasn’t as good as it usually is. It pretty much lasted me throughout the day, however. This was a sub-par showing for The Italian Store, which is nevertheless maintained as Good and Noteworthy for being one of the most popular sandwich shops in the entire DC area – I can’t ever remember being in there when it isn’t crowded, so it’s always best to call ahead.
The Pure Pasty Company (Vienna) The Traditional PastyÂ ($6.99) is quite possibly my most-favorite grab-n-go food item in the entire Washington, DC area. I get it every time I come here, and this time we got four of them, and made it our in-home dinner. I cannot stress enough just how wonderful these savory pastries are. How much do I like them? Quite honestly, if this were the last thing I ever ate, that would be A-OK with me. Maintained as a strong, enthusiastic Very Good (would be Excellent if there was more breadth to this carryout storefront, table service, etc., but boy oh boy does it execute what it’s trying to do in a big way). Also Noteworthy for serving this Cornish rarity, and for being so earth-shatteringly awesome. If you haven’t tried one of these, make a special trip out to Vienna, and load up. They are that good – trust me on this one (make sure to get the Traditional because I’ve had other flavors that aren’t as good).