Restaurant Review: Ben’s Chili Bowl

July 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ben’s Chili Bowl is a D.C. icon. It’s a greasy, no-frills diner that specializes in hot dogs and chili, but some of its most famous patrons include Bill Cosby and Barack Obama. Indeed, these two distinguished figures are the only guests allowed to eat for free, proclaims a sign next to the menu board.

My friend and I ventured up to U Street on a muggy summer evening to experience the legendary food in its original location. When we arrived at around 7PM, there was a long line at the counter. We studied our menu options and observed the sizzling hot dogs as we waited for our turn to order. Most reviews say that you have to try the original chili half-smoke, which is a half-beef and half-pork sausage on a hotdog bun, topped with mustard, onions, and the famous chili. They also serve burgers, fries, and some vegetarian options as well.

I decided to go for the half-smoke. We got our food at the counter and went into the back seating area to eat. The establishment is a bit crowdy and messy, but then again we didn’t come here for the fine dining experience. The food was deliciously messy and greasy. The sausage had a great bite to it. It was meaty and I could only detect a little bit of spice. The chili was a bit spicy and had a runny consistency. The chili used to top the dogs doesn’t contain beans as does the chili you get when you order a bowl.

The half-smoke cost $5.70, a bit pricey for a small hot dog, but I guess it’s worth it for the experience. Plus they give you a side of ruffled chips! The service was terrific, unexpected for a place with only counter service. The employees are very helpful and one asked me if I would like a refill of my soda as I was walking out the door.

Ben’s Chili Bowl is such a local legend that one simply has to visit in order to have a complete culinary tour of D.C. There is a lot of history behind the place and its role during the Civil Rights movement. I don’t think I’ll come back again, just because it’s a little out of the way from Foggy Bottom, but I’m definitely glad to have checked an item off my bucket list! And I can’t deny that sometimes a hearty, greasy, fulfilling meal is just what is needed.

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Restaurant Review: Founding Farmers

July 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Founding Farmers, offering farm-to-table American food, is the trendy spot to be right now. This restaurant in Foggy Bottom, right in the IMF building, is packed all night, every night, with a large crowd waiting for a table. It’s essential to get a reservation – last week a friend and I tried to get in for dinner on a Saturday and were told that it would be a 1.5 hour wait. We decided to make a reservation for this week, Saturday at 7, which was a great decision. We were seated after about 5 minutes at a nice table upstairs.

The menu has a little bit of everything – burgers, sandwiches, pasta, flatbread, seafood, steak. I heard that they are famous for their chicken and waffles. I decided to go with an entree under the vegetarian category, the rolled egg white omelet with sides of succotash, Farmer’s Salad, and mashed potatoes.

The omelet was a generous size, and it was stuffed with the vegetable succotash (a combination of zucchini, carrots, peas, green beans, and cauliflower sautéed with butter). I really enjoyed the vegetables, though I thought the omelette itself was a bit greasy and lacking flavor.

The Farmer’s Salad was terrific – I should have gotten an entree portion of it! It included chunks of avocado, large slivers of parmesan cheese, tomatoes, and almonds, dressed in a champagne vinaigrette. All the ingredients were very fresh and crisp, and even in the small portion I received I could tell the combination of flavors was spot-on.

The service was very prompt – I had my water filled at least five times, from a glass jar placed on our table, and the waiter literally had our credit cards back to us in about thirty seconds after picking up the bill. The place is a bit pricey but it really depends on what you order – my omelet was $12 for a large plate of food, and my friend ordered a cheeseburger for $10. Obviously, the seafood and meat-based entrees cost more, but eating here does not have to break the bank.

I would love to come back and try some more dishes – maybe I should make another reservation!

Restaurant Review: Cafe Citron

July 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I’ve had Mexican food. On Friday, a few friends and I checked out a bar/restaurant in Dupont called Cafe Citron for their happy hour specials. First we ordered a platter of empanadas to share. They had a savory cornmeal coating over a filling of either cheese, beef, or pork. I tried the cheese one, which was quite delicious in a way that only fried stuff and gooey cheese can be.

A friend and I decided to split the chicken burritos entree since it came with two burritos, which cost around $10 during happy hour. It arrived about twenty minutes later on a large platter with rice, beans, salsa, and guacamole.

I would classify these more as chicken soft tacos than burritos, personally, but that might just be due to my limited knowledge of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines. Each burrito was wrapped in a small flour tortilla and filled with strips of chicken, peppers, onions, and a bit of melted cheese. It was tasty but the texture of the tortillas quickly became soggy, while the edges remained crispy. That was a little disappointing! There also was not as much filling as I imagined a burrito should have, but then again, I may just be biased due to what I’ve seen at Chipotle – now those burritos are massive.

The atmosphere of the establishment was fun – the lighting was dim but the inside was colorful with decorations, and the place quickly became crowded once the after-work crowd moved in. It was a fun little place to hit up in Dupont.

Restaurant Review: Serendipity 3 DC

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Serendipity is a quirky diner/bar/dessert establishment in the heart of Georgetown in DC. It’s pretty famous for its desserts, especially the frozen hot chocolate. A friend and I decided to check the place out on a Saturday night around 7. I was surprised to see that there was not a line – the place was pretty empty and we were seated promptly. However, about half an hour later there was a good amount of people lined up by the doorway, so I guess timing is key.

Their menu is full of American classics, from burgers and sandwiches to crab cake salad and omelets. I finally decided to get the S3 Chopped Chicken Salad, which is a mix of artichoke hearts, tomato, chicken, and corn with ranch dressing.

The vegetables were all very fresh and colorful. The corn had just been cut off the cob, and the lettuce was crisp and the tomatoes very sweet and juicy. The chicken was a bit tough and lacked flavor, plus some parts were a bit burnt, and I suspect that the artichokes were from a can. All in all, a pretty decent, large salad, though not worth the $15 price tag. Also I admit that this choice wasn’t the most exciting, so I probably shouldn’t judge Serendipity based upon it.

A table next to ours was celebrating a birthday and all of them ordered deliciously decadent-looking desserts, so next time I’ll know what to go for!

Restaurant Review: Malaysia Kopitiam

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s been a while since my last review! This past week I haven’t been trying out many new interesting places – until this past Friday night. A friend and I went to Malaysia Kopitiam located near Dupont Circle on M Street. We were both in Singapore last summer and missed the local foods that we found there. The restaurant was pretty empty at 6:30 on a Friday night, and the waitstaff were very attentive and provided prompt service.

The restaurant offers a variety of dishes, from appetizers to noodles and stir fried vegetables. We decided to share an order of the watercress and get our own appetizers. I chose the otak otak, a salmon, chicken, and shrimp paste with spices grilled in a banana leaf. It’s definitely a strange concept to American tastes, but they sell these savory treats all the time on the streets in Singapore. It’s not the most pleasing dish to look at, and the texture is a little odd (a bit spongy) but it has a great savory taste. Two pieces of otak otak was about $3.

The watercress was really fresh, and the portion was large, definitely enough for two people to share. The sauce that the vegetables were cooked in was not too greasy or heavy. It’s made with a fermented tofu paste, which sounds strange but gives the dish a nice sharp and salty flavor. The dish was $10.

Unfortunately we did not try any of their signature noodle dishes, so I feel that I cannot adequately judge the restaurant overall, but the food that I ate was of the expected quality. Additionally, I think this may be one of the only Malaysian restaurants in the area, so if you are up to try a new cuisine I would recommend Malaysia Kopitiam. Don’t worry if you don’t know the first thing about Malaysian cuisine, as the menu has lots of photos of the food.

Chicken and Cauliflower Curry

July 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

I cooked for the second time this summer! My lovely friend invited me over to her spacious kitchen so we could actually make a home cooked meal. Last time we threw together a veggie pasta dish – this time we decided to attempt an Indian curry. We were a bit more adventurous this time and bought a package of raw chicken breasts instead of using precooked chicken, but we compromised by using a pre-made curry simmer sauce and frozen cauliflower. But hey, within an hour of leaving for the grocery store we had dinner ready, so overall it was quite successful.

First we cut up the three chicken breasts into cubes (I didn’t have a part in this because I don’t like dealing with raw meat), and cooked it in the pan with some oil. We also threw in some sliced onions. Then we poured in about three fourths of the jar of simmer sauce, and at the very end dumped in the pack of frozen cauliflower. We let the whole thing cook for a bit over low heat to let the flavor of the sauce soak into the rest of the dish.

One more shortcut – we bought naan from Whole Foods which we threw into the microwave to warm up for a bit. In the end, quite a satisfying meal, and it is always good to get some more veggies in! We randomly ate some raw baby carrots in the side, contributing to the veggie intake. Next time I would use fresh cauliflower – the frozen kind turned out a bit soggy with a spongy texture.

This was my first venture into Indian food, and I’m sure glad for the existence of pre made sauces. A lot of the recipes online for curry call for various spices, and we definitely did not have most of them on hand. I’m sure one day I’ll attempt a genuine, made-from-scratch Indian curry, but for the college-level standard cooking I am very pleased with how this turned out.

Restaurant Review: Kaz Sushi Bistro

July 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

I joined a few friends on Friday night at a sushi joint in Foggy Bottom called Kaz Sushi Bistro. It is a cozy little venue, an upscale place that masquerades as a hole-in-the-wall from the outward appearance, and we had to request that they combine four little tables in order to seat our entire party. They have a pretty extensive menu of sushi as well as other items such as bento boxes. I arrived a bit later and everyone was already prepared to order, so I quickly scanned the menu – such a dilemma for an indecisive foodie like myself!

I was craving eel, so I ordered the crunchy eel roll, which is six pieces of eel and pickled radish for $8. It was a bit pricier than what I’m used to paying for a simple sushi roll. When our orders arrived, I noticed immediately that the portion sizes were tiny! Each piece of sushi was less than an inch across, and it was quite a meager amount of eel – barely a tiny strip in each piece. I really enjoyed the radish though, it was perfectly crunchy and sour. I just wish there was a greater amount of food – most people were finished within five minutes.

Since the rolls are so small, you should expect to order multiple varieties in order to have a satisfying meal. On the other hand, this might mean dropping more than twenty bucks for dinner, so be prepared for a pricey occasion. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and the attentive yet non-visible waitstaff. This would be a good place for a date or otherwise intimate meeting.

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