Restaurant Review: Basil

May 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

In the two weeks between the end of finals and commencement, the dining halls close and we are on our own for meals – the perfect time to explore the New Haven food scene as well as revisit some old haunts. Basil, a small Asian fusion restaurant on the edge of campus, is a place I had been to a few times before but neglected to visit recently since it is a bit far from where I live.

It was still early for dinner when my friend and I decided to drop by, so I ordered two smaller dishes from the menu. One was a dim sum item called har gow, otherwise known as steamed shrimp dumplings. These are by far my favorite dim sum menu item – succulent shrimp stuffed in a chewy, translucent wrap. Basil’s shrimp dumplings were satisfactory – the filling was fresh and the dumplings were a good size, but I’ve had better in restaurants in larger cities. They were $4.50.

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I also ordered a side of broccoli with oyster sauce. Here is where things got a bit confusing. Basil’s menu has various types of steamed vegetables with oysters sauce listed in on one page (broccoli, chinese broccoli, bok choy, etc.). I asked for the regular American broccoli but the waitress first brought me chinese broccoli, though she returned with the right dish quickly after I mentioned the mistake.

The vegetables were fresh and steamed to the perfect point – still crunchy, yet without that sharp taste of raw broccoli. I also enjoyed how the sauce lightly dressed the dish, rather than dousing the vegetables the way some restaurants serve it. I believe this dish was also around $4.

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The menu is quite varied – my friend ordered a mango salad, roti prata (flat panfried bread with a dipping sauce that’s found in Singapore and Malaysia), and a different variety of steamed vegetables. There are also various rice and noodle dishes.

We went to Basil at a little before six (I think it was on a Sunday), and the place was pretty open so we experienced fast service. We must have gotten there at the perfect time, because not fifteen minutes after we were seated but the place started bustling with customers. Basil has a pretty small dining area but there’s usually a quick turnaround. Great affordable place if you want to try different Asian dishes!

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Restaurant Review: York Street Noodle House

May 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

York Street Noodle is place to go for a quick, cheap, and simple meal. The restaurant itself is small and tucked away on the second floor of a row house on York Street. The dining room is very cozy and slightly dark – it works well for two or three people who are dining together. Service is no frills and efficient. The menu is limited to certain types of dishes, but there is quite a variety within each category – noodle and dumpling soups, stir-fried noodles, dim sum, etc. Prices are usually under $10 for each entree.

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I ordered the chicken noodle soup ($6.25), which was egg noodles, assorted vegetables (broccoli, napa cabbage, bean sprouts), and tender slices of white chicken in a fragrant broth. It resembled chicken pho, though there is a menu item “vietnamese chicken soup” which might be a closer approximation.

The soup was delicious in a salty, MSG-laden way – I admittedly love to unami flavor of MSG, but it does make one incredibly thirsty afterwards. May be unsatisfying to a connoisseur of broth who is looking for “depth” and mouthfeel. The chicken was tender and plentiful, but rather bland, so I asked for some good old hot sauce to put on the meat. The noodles were pretty nondescript.

Sum: Pretty good meal for a college student on a budget.

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.

Restaurant Review: Froggy Bottom Pub

June 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Froggy Bottom Pub, located on the George Washington University campus, is probably the last place I would expect to find pho, but this traditional Vietnamese noodle soup is one of their specialties! It has its own insert in the menu, between the requisite line-up of burgers and pizzas.

I ordered the beef pho (with rare flank steak) and extra mixed vegetables on top. The service was really friendly and fast. We got our water almost immediately and the huge steaming bowls of pho arrived 5-10 minutes after our order. I’ve never seen pho with these types of vegetables (broccoli and carrots), but as you probably know by now I love all types of greens and they didn’t take anything away from the dish.

The flank steak was hidden underneath the pile of vegetables. There were large, thin slices of the steak. I waited a bit too long to eat the meat so it was well-done instead of rare by the time I got to it, but it was still very tender.

The broth was tasty but nothing to call home about, so to speak. It had a good savory flavor but lacked the richness and depth of the kind of broth you know has been stewing for hours and hours. The noodles were almost an after thought – a bit overcooked for my preferences. The portions were generous though, and I barely could make a dent in the noodles after all the delicious toppings.

D.C. is rather lacking in good pho places, and I think Froggy Bottom Pub is one of the only establishments that serves pho in the Foggy Bottom area, so it probably is popular among the area’s college students. The price was reasonable – my bowl with the additional vegetables was $8.50. The atmosphere of the place was really nice and relaxed, and the service was really friendly. I may go back to try some of their other dishes.

Restaurant Review: Mai Thai

June 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Tonight I went with a friend to a Thai restaurant on M Street in the Dupont area called Mai Thai. I haven’t seen too many Thai restaurants in the D.C. area and this one received pretty reasonable reviews on Yelp. We arrived at a little before 7 on a Friday night and were seated immediately outside in the patio area.

The menu is very extensive – there is the requisite pad thai, drunken noodle, and curries, but there is also roasted duck, various seafood dishes, and tofu of all varieties. After a lot of thought and a little help from the waiter, I decided upon the ginger tofu, which was fried tofu sautéed with bokchoy, shiitake mushroom, ginger, and onions in a light bean sauce.

The presentation was very pleasing! I enjoyed the fresh baby bokchoy hearts (the best part), which were cooked just to the right point of firmness. The tofu soaked up the sauce and was a little spongy but I didn’t mind the texture. The sauce was a bit too sweet for me, but it wasn’t as heavy and greasy as I had feared. I’m not sure why it’s called a “bean” sauce though. The garnish of spiraled carrots and radish added a pleasing burst of color. I only wish there were more pieces of shiitake mushroom, but overall the dish was great and the portion size was generous.

Next time I would add a bit of heat to the dish. My friend ordered a similar tofu dish that was labeled with three chilies (the highest level of spice) and he said it was not too bad. This came out to be $13 including a little dish of white rice and was quite filling. I think this price is reasonable for dinner, especially in that neighborhood, which tends to have a lot of the pricer restaurants. I was debating between this dish, the flamed watercress, and the roasted duck salad, so I just might have to return one night to try those out.

Restaurant Review: Cafe Asia

June 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

Last night I tried out a sushi place called Cafe Asia with a friend. The food was good but what stood out the most was the interesting atmosphere, and I’m still not sure what to think of it. I’m pretty sure the place turns into a nightclub after nine. The venue tries to be trendy and tries to be many things at once while still appearing very bare bones. There are two floors, with the dining area on the second and a bar/art space on the first. There was also a space for a DJ.

The dining area is a no frills, sparse place. We ordered our sushi off a paper menu where you check off your selections. We got four rolls – I believe they were the california roll, a shrimp tempura roll, a dynamite roll, and one other that I can’t recall. The sushi came pretty quickly, within about ten minutes, accompanied by the standard pickled ginger and wasabi paste.


I thought the sushi was pretty tasty, though I’m no expert. The ingredients seemed fresh, and there was a nice chew thanks to the nori and sesame seeds embedded in the rice, though there could have been more filling in each roll. I also wish there had been a choice of brown rice.

The service was sadly basically nonexistent, and at the end of dinner it felt like they were trying to rush us out (no doubt to get the room ready for the clubbing scene at night). Interestingly enough there were also some ladies setting up a jewelry display. I was thoroughly confused.

Bottom line – sushi is standard, but don’t come for the ambiance, unless you are looking for a quirky scene.

Food Truck Review: Far East Taco Grille

May 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Finally I ate at a non-chain food place! I promise this will happen more often. At lunch today I was in a hurry so I decided to grab something to eat at one of the many food trucks lined up outside the office. There was such a variety of cuisines, but I decided to go to the one that seemed the most popular. Far East Taco Grille looked promising. It is a fusion of Mexican and Korean cuisines.

The truck offers a make-your-own taco set up. You first pick a protein (steak, pork, chicken, tofu), then a topping, and a sauce. You either get a corn or flour tortilla, and 1 taco is $3 and 3 tacos is $8. I decided upon a steak taco topped with kimchi relish, salsa roja, and onion and lime, in a corn tortilla. The line was a bit slow, but worth the wait! The kimchi is deliciously crunchy and spicy, and the meat is cooked Korean style, a little sweet and spicy. The steak was a bit fatty and juicy, and all the flavors worked well together. The corn tortilla provided a pleasantly soft and slightly sweet backdrop.

My only complaint is that the steak was maybe a touch too sweet. Then again, I much prefer savory foods over sweet foods, and usually dislike the sweet-and-sour combination. But overall, great fusion place, though I do wish the line would move along a bit faster. I guess people just had trouble deciding between all the interesting options.

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