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Eating in Morocco, Part 2: The Cheap Stuff

14 Jul

Abandoned fruit... for the taking?

I have just over a week left in Morocco, and I feel like I’ve run the gamut of restaurant types. I’ve eaten everywhere from a stand in the middle of a crazy, smoky square in Marrakesh to restaurants in opulent old houses that suddenly appears at the end of a dark alley in the medina of Fez. I’ve also

Pistachio nougat

eaten at all the in between places—restaurants in gas stations, which is apparently a big thing, and the little places scattered across the town I’m in. I’ve found that my most memorable meals have come at the extremes of the spectrum. Donuts fried in front of you at a sweet stand, sprinkled with sugar and eaten standing up in a split second. Tables groaning under plate upon plate of different vegetables, and that’s just the first course. The stuff in between tends to blend together into one big tagine. That’s not to say that you can’t get great food at the mid-range restaurants, it’s just harder to tell if the lemon chicken tagine is going to be sublime or just mediocre.

Super decadent chebakia

Unusually, these sweets were actually behind glass!

Let’s start with the cheap stuff. We’ve walked through a whole bunch of medinas (the old section of Moroccan cities) at this point, and every time we pass a food stall (usually either dried fruits or sweets), I crane my neck and sometimes succumb to the temptation to dig in. In Marrakesh there were carts everywhere selling different kinds of nut paste/nougat thing. I got some pistachio, which was delicious—very sweet, I think sweetened with honey, but the pistachio flavor shined. In all the medinas you’ll also find pyramids of honey-soaked sweets, often covered in flies and bees. The most ridiculously indulgent (in the best way possible) are the chebakia, made from dough that is deep fried and then doused in honey and orange blossom water. Also delicious are little envelopes of pastry, coated in honey, filled with almond or peanut

Almost like a peanut butter sandwich...

paste. And while we’re on the topic of peanuts, one of my friends bought what she described as a “Moroccan whoopee pie” from a vendor in the Fez medina. It was two puffy almond-meal cakes sandwiched around a peanut butter filling—utterly delicious, and an excellent breakfast. Freshly squeezed orange juice also abounds in markets, but I was drawn instead to the tea stalls in Jma al Fna in Marrakesh. Instead of the ubiquitous Moroccan mint tea, this was a heavily spiced cinnamon—I had to buy some, it was so delicious. Everything you want American chai to be.

And I almost forgot all the fruit! Watermelon cut off the “tasting melon” at a souk and given to us for free with the toast “to your health.” Piles of dried dates and figs in every market you come across. Being forced to eat prickly pear after prickly pear from a cart before finally convincing the owner that we actually want to buy some to go. I may be lacking for fruit on campus, but there’s certainly tons to be found on the streets.

Dates, dates, dates

But on to the real food. We had dinner one night in Jma al Fna, the square in Marrakesh that turns into a crazy, smoke-filled riot of the senses at night. Food stalls crop up out of nowhere starting around five o’clock. Our group of ten sat down at one and I think just ordered everything on the menu… the food just kept coming, long after we had eaten our fill. It seemed pretty typical street

I'm going vegetarian when I get home...

food—lots of skewers of meat, though the spicy red sauce we requested was an excellent accompaniment, and one of the few actually spicy things I’ve encountered in Morocco. The price tag, however, was close to those at upscale restaurants outside Marrakesh, a sad sign that Jma al Fna is more a tourist than local attraction at this point. Cheap food does abound, however. At a souk in Azrou a couple days later I finally tried a merguez sausage sandwich for about a buck—though tasty, I found the flavor a little too distinctive for my taste. Distinctive of what, I could not tell you… perhaps too lamb-y, it just wasn’t my favorite. The brochette (kebab) at the same stall were extremely fatty, salty, and delicious, however. I’m going to have to stop here because I am off tomorrow morning on my next culinary adventure, to an oasis in the Sahara. Who knows what they eat out there! So you will have to hold on just a little longer for tales of opulent lunches that left us practically comatose.

Merguez sandwich in the perfect setting, a souk (photo by David Wong)

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Resturant Review: Founding Farmers Brunch

12 Jul

Heaven in a brown paper bag.

Brunch. Founding Farmers. These are two of my favorite things, and combine them with a group of friends reminiscing on the previous night’s activities, some bloody marys and fried dough topped with sugar, and you have a pretty perfect couple of hours.  Founding Farmers has delicious food for all three meals- their mission is to support farmers and provide sustainable and quality food options, which means everything is very fresh and very delicious.  If it weren’t for the excellent brunch items I would say save a trip there for the dinner menu, which includes steak, maple glazed salmon, and amazing flatbreads.  But since they do also serve one of the best brunches in DC, you will have to resign yourself to trying multiple meals there.

Chicken and waffles and gravy, oh my.

I’ve been to Founding Farmers for brunch before, but this article on their beignets meant I was clearly well past due for another trip.  I am usually a strict savory breakfast type, but sweet menu offerings such as overstuffed French toast, which comes stacked like bricks on a extra-large plate, and the aforementioned beignets have me rethinking my eggs-and-bacon loyalties.  We got an order of beignets for the table, and literally ceased talking for 5 minutes as everyone devoured the crispy and sweet fried dough topped with powdered sugar and served with chocolate, caramel, and raspberry dipping sauces.  For my brunch main course, only after much consideration and indecisiveness, I ordered the Chicken and Waffles- one large waffle with two eggs, a crispy chicken tender, white gravy and maple syrup.  Although this had a lot going on, all of the flavors and textured melded perfectly together, to the point where I was eating bites of chicken and waffle with both the syrup and gravy heaped over top.  The white gravy was creamy and flavorful, and the chicken was cooked to a perfect crispness.  My only minor complaint is that the poached eggs were from a mold, which weirdly rubs me the wrong way, because eggs should not be shaped like cones (told you it was a minor complaint).

One serious bloody mary.

Other orders at the table included the Pastrami Hash, which looked and tasted delicious, although seemed like much less food than the other over-sized offerings.  I am tempted to try that and some of the other hash dishes in the future though, as well as the pan scrambles.  I was also convinced to try my first Bloody Mary here- I’m usually more of a mimosa girl, but figured the Founding Farmer’s Bloody Mary would be a pretty excellent one as an introduction.  I wasn’t wrong- it was very peppery and filling, and certainly woke you up in the morning.  It took me the better part of an hour to finish the whole thing due to the spicy-tomatoy-ness, but I would definitely count it as a new-experience success.  All in all, there was not much about this brunch I would change (the business of Founding Farmers on a Sunday morning is one drawback, but Founding Farmers is always busy so I usually assume I won’t be seated until 15 minutes after my reservation anyway), and I only wish I had room in my stomach for more than one main course with all of their selections.

Eating in Morocco, Part 1

3 Jul

The aftermath at Dar Naji in Rabat

Somehow I blinked and I have been in Morocco for a little over a week already! I am studying abroad here for four weeks, and will hopefully be writing a few posts about the (so far delicious) food I encounter. My program is based at a university in a small town in the Atlas mountains. We have a generous meal plan, but unfortunately the food is pretty bad, which probably makes everything I taste outside the walls seem infinitely better. Thankfully, we have a lot of trips built into our schedule (and the program gives us a food budget for them!), so I have already been able to try quite a few Moroccan specialties.

Kefta tagine

The first thing I wanted to try, of course, was a tagine– the ubiquitous stew-like dish named after the clay pot in which they are cooked. (I bought a tagine for about 2.50 yesterday, and am excited to try cooking with it, if it makes it back to the States in one piece!) One of the most common tagines is kefta, which is usually beef (I believe) meatballs in a tomato sauce, with an egg on top. Though delicious, this seemed pretty similar to something I could get back in the US to me, and I probably won’t order it too often if there’s something more interesting on the menu.
There definitely were lots of interesting things at the first proper restaurant I went to, Dar Naji in Rabat. We arrived in Rabat pretty late after a 3 hour bus ride, and our professor pretty much just ordered the entire menu for our group of ten. This was excellent for my food-reporting, as I got to try just about everything, and discovered what I will definitely order again.

Beef and prune tagine

My favorite (which was also my request) was the tagine of beef aux pruneaux. I guess this would translate as “with prunes,” though I think English needs a better word to convey how the prunes become one with the beef and make it slightly sweet, while the prunes themselves took on savory flavors from the beef. (On a side note, I’ve found most menus so far to be in French, with no Arabic at all. Being the only one in the group who speaks French, this means I am quickly brushing up on my food vocabulary.)
Someone else in the group also noticed that brain tagine was on the menu, and requested that we order one to give it a shot. Not being one to pass up a new food experience, I tried it as well. The brain was in a tomato-y sauce, and I really didn’t think it had a strong flavor in itself. The texture reminded me of scrambled eggs– not at all off-putting, but I wouldn’t feel the need to order it again.
The other tagines included chicken with lemon, beef with vegetables, fish, and kefta. I loved the lemon sauce with the chicken, but found the meat itself a bit dry… I think my next tagine will have to be chicken so I can see if this is a common problem. The setting of Dar Naji was also beautiful… we were seated at a low table on the terrace, which had a canopy covering and overlooked the medina (old city) walls. And it was all reasonably priced, at about $5 per tagine.

Beautiful vegetables...

The other memorable restaurant we visited was in Meknes, but I am a terrible reporter and failed to take down the name. This was also opulently decorated, with the walls lined with tons of cushions that we quickly sank on to, exhausted by the 107 degree heat outside. Our professor ordered us some mixed vegetables to start… although for once they came with serving spoons, everyone was so hungry that we did it the traditional Moroccan way, using bread to transport the food most efficiently from

...were quickly devoured

serving plate straight to mouth. The vegetable were all cooked in various spiced sauces, and served cold. The green marinated peppers were probably my favorite, though the carrots were also unexpectedly sweet and delicious.
I ordered cous cous as a main course, which is another Moroccan specialty usually served on special occassions, and though it usually comes with meat I requested it be left off because I just didn’t feel the need for it. The resulting tower of cous cous covered in vegetables was excellent. The vegetables had some sort of sauce on it that tasted faintly buttery, but I couldn’t really pin down what was in it. But it seeped down into the cous cous and made a delicious dish that was perfect for lunch, not nearly as heavy as a tagine.
I have so much more I could say but I think I will leave it there in order to save some things for another post! Bislaama.

A mountain of cous cous, covered in veggies

Restaurant Review: Cafe Dupont

5 May

Mmm, meat. Steak tartare at Cafe Dupont

Our Easter weekend full of delicious home-cooked food in Virginia was finished off by an excellent meal back in DC: dinner at Cafe Dupont. Mother Spice was staying in the attached Hotel Dupont for the night, and we decided to keep it simple and have dinner downstairs.
Roxie had been to the bar (Bar Dupont. Are you catching on to the naming scheme?) before for their happy hours, 4-6 every night, when their usually $11 cocktails are half price. Of course, the opportunity for these cocktails was not passed up at dinner. Roxie and her roommate Lily are partial to the Alan’s Love, and Mother Spice enjoyed the Dupont Imperial.

Fresh pea risotto

Choosing what to eat proved to be much more difficult than choosing cocktails, however, as none of us was starving but pretty much everything on the menu looked tempting. We eventually decided to split appetizers– Lily and Mom shared a pea risotto that looked excellent, while Roxie and I decided the time had finally come to try steak tartare. I enjoyed it very much– it was excellently spiced with a velvety texture, though the steak flavor was very subtle.

Heaven(ly scallops) on a plate

For mains, Roxie and Mom both got the mussels with saffron– huge buckets of mussels, with accompanying french fries. While the mussels were delicious, to me, the letdown of the night were the fries. Not quite chunky fries and not quite the thin, crispy variety, they weren’t excellent but that didn’t stop me from stealing many. Lily got the appetizer crab cake as her main, which she polished off sharply. And though I was tempted by the steak frites (and well, everything) I ended up getting seared scallops on a bed of lemon risotto, with asparagus and a ramp pesto. Words cannot express how much I loved this dish– seasonal, with three huge scallops perfectly seared and complemented by the creamy risotto underneath. I also appreciated the modest portioning (well, except for the amount of mussels)– I am always a bit put off by restaurants that give you enough for two people.
Nonetheless, we were too full for dessert. An incentive, perhaps, to return again, although I didn’t really need one.

Restaurant Review: Hudson Restaurant and Lounge

19 Apr

Short rib with mac and cheese and fried onions

My roommate had a Groupon to Hudson (25$ for a 50$ gift card) so we decided to go on a roommate-date and celebrate spring and jobs and grad schools.  Since we had the gift card we ordered a lot of food, all of which was delicious.  Hudson has a modern-American feel and is smart, but doesn’t make you feel like you have to be dressed up to go there.  The food is also what I would describe as “Modern American”- things like Matzo Ball Soup, Tuna Tartare, Short Rib Tacos, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, and assorted brick oven pizzas.

Sangriaaa

We obviously started with a pitcher of white sangria (described as serving 6-8 people, yeah, ok. There were probably 4-6 glasses in there). The sangria was described as “white sangria fusion of martin codax albariño, grapefruit, pear, sage, and lavender with cabo wabo reposado x-rated fusion margarita topped with sweet lime espuma.”  Wow, that is quite the description, but basically it was grapfruity and good, but very tart.  It was a little hard to finish the pitcher just because you got so full from all of the juices in there, but I would recommend at least a glass or two.  They also have many other specialty drinks that sound equally complex but good.

To start we shared two “tasters”- Tuna Tartare with avocado and cucumber, and a Duck Confit Leg.  The tuna was delicious, very fresh tasting and bright tuna that went well with the avocado, and they gave you crispy wontons to scoop it all up with.  The duck was also great- duck can sometimes be dry or overly fatty, but this was cooked well and very flavorful.  The tuna was an appetizer sized portion, but if you weren’t too hungry the duck with potatoes and sherry sauce could fill in for a main course.

Tuna Tartare

For the main course I got the Braised BBQ Short Rib, with smoked Gouda mac and cheese and onion rings.  Since I have a hard time resisting mussels whenever I see them on a menu, I was very pleased that Lily ordered them so I could try some- these ones were Maine Mussels with a Thai curry and coconut sauce.  My short rib was good, but the plate got extremely messy.  The mac and cheese under the meat could have probably been a main course by itself, and you would have to be very hungry to finish it all.  The creamy mac and cheese went well with the crispy onions and tender short rib, and my only complaint would be that together it was a rich dish, and a tiny bit salty for my taste.  Lily’s mussels were yummy- the Thai curry sauce was light and not overpowering, and we got Parmesan Truffle fries as well that were good, although could have been crispier.  But put truffle on anything and I will eat it so I was certainly not complaining.

All in all this was a satisfying and tasty meal, and I would go there again for a special occasion or just when I want to treat myself.  The happy hour specials are good, and they have items on the menu (such as pizzas) which are quite affordable and I’m sure every bit as good as the more expensive options.

Restaurant Review: Il Canale in Georgetown

12 Feb

The calimari was way better than this terrible picture

As soon as I read a review of Il Canale on Serious Eats, I knew I had to go. It was proclaimed Georgetown’s first “Truly Neapolitan Pizza,” and though I know New York is home to lots of great Neapolitan places, this one is practically on my doorstep. So best for the area is good enough for me.
So Roxie, my friend Lily, and I met up for dinner here last Tuesday. As expected on a Tuesday, it wasn’t exactly packed, but I imagine it gets busier on weekends and I would probably make a reservation. Looking around, the pizzas looked just slightly bigger than personal size– I could probably have finished a whole one with no appetizer, but I didn’t need one to myself. So we decided to share an order of calimari and fried zucchini to start, and then went for a Margherita pizza and the Italia.
We were a little worried at first that because “foccacia” was listed on the menu, we wouldn’t get free bread. Thankfully, we were soon proven wrong, and though the bread itself was pretty standard, the roasted garlic in the olive oil that came with it was awesome. (Potatoes, bread, pasta… yes, the Spices love their carbs.)

Italia pizza!

The calimari came next, and totally blew me away. I’m not always a huge fan of calimari, because I often find it too chewy. This wasn’t chewy at all, however, and the batter was perfectly light and salty. The zucchini thrown in to the didn’t add a whole lot, but made me feel a tiny bit healthier.
Next up were the pizzas. The Margherita was your classic, marinara sauce, mozzarella and basil. I could have done with a little more basil, but I though the sauce was incredible… really bright tomato flavors. The Italia was off the white side of the menu, meaning it had no sauce. It was a good prosciutto-parmesan-arugula pizza, though the toppings didn’t blow me away. The stand out on both pizzas, to me, was the crust. Super chewy and really well flavored, it made me understand the cult of the Neapolitan pizza.
Best of all was the bill we got at the end! $15 each for a filling meal… granted we didn’t get drinks or dessert, but it is undoubtedly very well priced (and certainly rivals the other Italian eateries in Georgetown in this respect).
I would highly recommend Il Canale for a nice meal out with your friends… it is budget-friendly, good for sharing, and has excellent food.

Il Canale

Thai on the Waterfront: Bangkok Joe’s

6 Dec

 

This restaurant comes Beard-Approved

Greetings, dear readers! Sorry for the protracted absence– unfortunately, the end of the semester looms, which means I haven’t had time to do any cooking since Thanksgiving! This has given me the opportunity forced me to use up all those meals in the dining hall that I haven’t been using all semester… I’m getting pretty sick of college food, let me tell you.
But thankfully we live in D.C., where there is always a new restaurant to discover and different cuisines to try! Bangkok Joe’s doesn’t really fall in either of these categories, as we’ve been going there for years and I eat Thai food frequently. But it is one of my favorite restaurants, and as it’s on the pricey side I don’t get to go too frequently.

Mmmm, so much delicious sauce

Brett and I had dinner there a few weeks ago, and it was amazing as always. We decided (or rather, Brett decided) to be ambitious and start with the Assorted Dumplings– five different kinds of dumplings for the price of about two regular servings sounded pretty good to us. There were two of each kind, which was perfect for us, though perhaps rather a large appetizer. I think my favorite was probably the Mushroom ‘n Ginger dumpling, which was pooled in an absolutely amazing sauce. The chicken potsticker was probably my least favorite, just because it was pretty standard fare compared to the amazing flavors of the others. Though we didn’t get it this time, I’ve also had the Peking Duck Spring Roll as an appetizer. Peking Duck is one of my favorite Chinese dishes, and I love this interpretation of it.

General Tso's Chicken

But on to the mains! I got the Panang Curry Noodles with chicken– a boring choice because I’ve gotten it many times before, but it’s so delicious that I couldn’t resist. A huge bowl of creamy and well balanced curry sauce, noodles, and spinach, it’s everything I’m looking for in a curry. And a bonus: because of all those dumplings, I took enough home to get two more lunches out of it! Brett got General Tso’s Chicken… yes, I teased him for being boring and American, but his report was very positive. In his own words: “it was sweet with a spicy aftertaste. Not too much to overwhelm someone but enough that it added to the experience.”
I would definitely recommend Bangkok Joe’s for a nice meal out– it has a great atmosphere and decor, and is fun without being too loud. And it is conveniently loacted on the Georgetown Waterfront… which meant that we just couldn’t avoid walking past Baked and Wired to get home. If you haven’t tried this less-famous bakery yet, you’re truly missing out. A s’mores bar was the perfect end to the night!

Restaurant Review: Cuba Libre

10 Nov

Guacomole and shrimp and roasted squash salad

Last Friday was my friend Lindsay’s birthday, and a big group of us went to a new restaurant in the Chinatown area, Cuba Libre, to celebrate.  I hadn’t heard of it before, but love the opportunity to try out new places that I wouldn’t usually go to, especially when I can justify going somewhere nice because “it’s insert-friend-here’s birthday!!! Clearly I should spend my grocery money for the week on one night out!”  I was even more excited to try Cuba Libre because Lindsay had mentioned mojitos multiple times in her email, and a quick look at the menu confirmed that not only did the food sound amazing, but yes, there are 14 different variations of mojito.

I was very lucky that when I got to the restaurant I found my friend Ingrid right away, because it was super crowded and very noisy by the front.  The atmosphere was actually very nice though, and once we were sitting down the noise wasn’t too overwhelming.  Cuba Libre had an obviously Cuban/generically ethnic theme, and had that fake outdoor-while-you’re-indoors thing going on that made me say to Ingrid immediately that I felt like I was in Disneyworld’s Mexico (which btw, also has very yummy food. And a boat ride).  Some people might not like the fake scenery, but to me comparing something to Disney is a very high compliment.

Former roomies at Cuba Libre

When we were finally seated at our massive table we were faced with the question of which of the 14 mojitos we would like to try.  One of our group had the neon pink beet and basil mojito, which was said to be excellent, but as I’m not a huge raw beet fan I went with a mango one.  Ingrid got the grilled pineapple mojito, which I will have to try next time I am there.  I also tried the classic mojito, which I actually preferred to the mango because it wasn’t as sweet and the mint taste was more promient.  Also luckily this wasn’t one of those places that puts so much mint into the drinks that you have to abandon it halfway through for fear of choking on excessive mint leaves.

Next came the food, and by the time we got anything to eat all of us were starving so it was very welcome.  The bread they gave us was little fried rounds of some sort of sweet bread, accompanied by a mango butter which I believe also had cinnamon in it.  Whatever it was, that stuff was seriously addictive, and I would have been pretty happy just eating lots of fried cinnamony bread all  night.  After much debating I settled on Lechon Asado for my main course, described as “slow roasted marinated pulled pork, classic sour orange mojo, Amarillo chile smashed yuca and black bean broth with vigoron slaw”.  I didn’t recognize half of the words in the description but the waiter said it sold out every night, which I always take as a good sign.  Ingrid got the Batata con Camarones (shrimp with roasted squash salad) and Guacamole Cubano (guacomole with pineapple and crispy plaintain), and I also tried the Yuca Frita and Croqueta de Jamon y Queso (Ham and Jack cheese croquettes).

My Lechon Asado

I don’t know that I’ve had Cuban food more than once or twice before, but based on this experience I will definitely be trying it again.  My pulled pork was tender and delicious, and the yuca was slightly spicy but balanced by the black bean broth and the slaw on top.  It was a large portion, but not overwhelmingly so, and I would order it again in a second.  The presentation of all the dishes was also very good, Ingrid’s guacamole was shaped with plantain chips on top, and mine was also all stacked in a very aesthetically pleasing way.  From what I heard everyone enjoyed their dishes, and the menu has quite a good range of seafood, chicken, and meat for actually pretty good value (mains were only about $20-25).  I would recommend this for a fun night out with friends, and I think next time I might order a few of the small plates to try as much as possible!

A Tale of Two Burgers

31 Oct

The monster that is a Ray's Hell Burger, with grilled onions and cheddar cheese

I’m a big burger fan (in case you haven’t noticed I’m a pretty big fan of most food so this shouldn’t come as a surprise), and while I don’t consider myself to be a burger snob who will only eat the highest of high quality burgers, I can appreciate both a so called “gourmet” burger and a more run of the mill fast food burger.  This post is a comparison of two very different but both delicious burgers, the first from Obama favorite Ray’s Hell Burger, located a convenient 5 minute walk from my apartment, the second from Fuddruckers, a much better than average fast food burger chain that I had sadly never heard of before moving to DC (on researching I found that they don’t have any locations in New York other than Albany, which basically doesn’t count).

Ray’s has become a frequent destination of mine because as I mentioned it is literally the closest restaurant to my apartment, and it’s a great place to take people when they visit, since most people have heard of it but might not have trekked out to Rosslyn to try it.  The first time I went there was over the summer with Gina and my friend Aaron (Hi S!), and needless to say I was not adequately prepared for what was about to happen.  Even though Aaron and I are both self-proclaimed fatties who occasionally (ok, this has happened a lot) eat a meal meant for a family of four between the two of us, neither of us came close to finishing our massive 10-oz Ray’s burgers.  Gina fared better because she had been there before, and I now know how to prepare for a Ray’s visit.  Here is a general list of Ray’s Rules:

1) Don’t eat for most of the day before.
2) If you order fries, make sure to share with at least one other person.  The burgers are so filling you don’t really need them.
3) Resist the temptation of overloading your burger with more than 3 toppings. They will fall off.
4) Cut your burger in half before attempting to eat it, it makes it much more manageable.

Oh and the burgers? Yup, they’re awesome.  Always perfectly cooked, seasoned, and super juicy, I can see why Obama chooses this as an introduction to the USA for foreign dignitaries.  And I am very lucky that I live so nearby, as you definitely need to go more than once to sample the many toppings and the different seasonings on the burgers.

Fuddruckers burger and fries

Fuddruckers is a less intense burger experience, but good enough that I still go out of my way to eat at the DC location in Chinatown whenever I can.  You can pick the weight of your burger, which is a useful feature, and you add all the toppings like lettuce, etc, yourself, which means it doesn’t automatically come with things you don’t want.  I usually go with the 1/3 pound patty with either American or Cheddar cheese.  These aren’t the monster burgers of Ray’s, which is arguably a good thing- they are thinner patties and grilled to order so they are also very fresh and well cooked.  The bun is pure buttery deliciousness, and the seasoned fries are well worth getting.  In a place like DC, which is home to Five Guys among many other burger spots, Fuddruckers isn’t a high-profile burger place, but it is one of my personal favorites.  Fuddruckers and Ray’s are so different it’s hard to compare them, but if you like burgers in general these are both places to try soon.  And if you go to Ray’s, please call me so I can come help eat your leftovers.

Restaurant Reviews: 701 and Casa Oaxaca

20 Oct

Thanks to Guy for this picture of the table at 701

Our parents were in town this weekend, which of course meant two things: free meals, and a big trip to the grocery store (in a car!). Oh, and of course wonderful conversation with our lovely parents, etc etc. But back to the free meals. The two restaurants I’m writing about today aren’t exactly places I’m going to go every week, but they’re both excellent for special occasions or just a bit of a splurge.

First up, on Friday night, was 701, on Pennsylvania Avenue. We were meeting up with a large assortment of our parents’ friends for dinner, but Roxie and I were assured there would be other “young people” there. (By which is meant there were two other people under thirty.) It was a great evening though—because we were such a large group we were put in a private room, where the conversation could get progressively louder as each new bottle of wine was ordered. As for the food, in general it was excellent. We did some informal surveying around the table, and everyone seemed to be satisfied. Highlights listed included the rabbit rillete appetizer, ham and cheese ravioli, arugula pappardelle, and poussin. (Not to brag, but the waiter said I was the first person to correctly identify a poussin as a small chicken, rather than a fish. All those years of watching Top Chef has finally paid off.) I had the acorn squash and brown butter orecchiette as an appetizer, which seems to have been the only disappointing pasta dish—the pasta was slightly gummy, and the sauce underwhelming. But my venison entrée was excellent—the date puree on the side was an unusual but delicious accompaniment, though I could probably have done without the turnips. Roxie’s enormous steak was also very well cooked, though it had a very salty crust. The accompanying bone marrow mashed potatoes were delicious.

The portions (except for the steak) were reasonable enough that I had room for dessert, all of which were amazing. My chocolate-hazelnut terrine was rich, but delicious, and Roxie’s carrot cake roulade was also good. But everyone at the table agreed the star was the warm walnut cake, if only for the amaretto cream on the side. As an added bonus, all of the dessert portions were generous enough to share around the table.

And then on to something very different, Casa Oaxaca! This was our destination on Saturday night, and though I had gone once before I was even more impressed the second time around. Roxie was working on Saturday, so I went with my boyfriend, Brett, and my parents. The restaurant is located in Adams Morgan, where I really do not go often enough. It’s not terribly far away from me, just awkward to get to, but every time I go I vow that I will return in the near future to explore further, because it’s a great corner of DC that I hardly know at all.

Casa Oaxaca prides itself on offering authentic Mexican food, focusing on the cuisine of the state of Oaxaca. The menu of entrees is simple, mainly offering different meats with various mole sauces, but everything I’ve had there has had complex, deep flavors. We started on Saturday with a variety of appetizers for the table—queso with chorizo, guacamole and salsa, plantain patties, and a chicken and mole tamale. The highlights for me were the plantain patties (because I love anything with plantains in it), and the guacamole and salsa.  The salsa was very spicy, but had rich, earthy flavors—I’m tempted to say at least one of the components had been roasted, though it was hard to tell. Whatever the technique, it was addictive and I had already had a few too many chips by the time our main dishes came.

My parents both got the mole poblano, or chicken in a black mole sauce. For those of you unfamiliar with black mole, it is a rich sauce with chocolate undertones, and they do a superior job with it at Café Oaxaca. I got the Tres Moles, or chicken with red, green, and black mole sauces, because I was interested in comparing the different moles. All were excellent—it’s hard to beat the chocolatey flavor of the black, but the red was very well spiced and balanced, and I could definitely eat whole dish with red mole as well. Brett got the duck in a fig mole sauce, which was one of the more unusual items on the menu, but also very tasty. By the end of the night (thanks to all those chips), I was too full to order dessert, but I guess that only gives me an excuse to go back! I love Mexican food but get so tired of flavorless burritos with excessive amounts of cheese (see: the “Mexican food” offered at my dining hall), so I think Casa Oaxaca has become one of my new favorite DC restaurants.

So there you go, two excellent restaurants to try if you’re looking for something special in DC. I can assure that the next restaurant review will be a little more within the budget of college students, though, as our parents won’t be returning for a while!