Dishing on Succotash at the National Harbor

Here’s the dish! Earlier this month, I visited Succotash at the National Harbor (located at 186 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745). I’ve lived in Southeast D.C. for a little over a year, and I’ll admit that I don’t frequent the National Harbor as often as I should. A MeetUp.com group I’m a member of sent out a meet up for lunch there on Veteran’s Day (since so many federal workers have the day off), so when a friend from college who recently relocated back to the area wanted to catch up, I suggested Succotash. A collaboration between five-time James Beard Award nominee Edward Lee (from Bravo’s Top Chef and PBS’s The Mind of a Chef) and Knead Hospitality + Design, Succotash is fairly new to the National Harbor, opening only a few months ago. I was pleased to learn from the hostess, Deborah, that the weekend we visited was the first time they seated for brunch. As their website describes, “[Chef] Lee brings his Korean roots and Southern repertoire to a soulful Southern menu,” so I was excited see what culinary creations were in store for us.

My first impression of the restaurant was a good one; I loved the atmosphere they set the moment you walk in the door. It’s beautifully decorated with detailed wood work and some of the most beautiful wrought iron work I’ve ever seen. I would best describe it as Restoration Hardware meets Bourbon Street. I was ecstatic to find out from the bartender that all of the lighting in the restaurant was actually from Restoration Hardware, so I was spot on. The open-concept coffered ceiling is spectacular and features a floral design in the middle of the restaurant, highlighting a Medieval-inspired chandelier. Breathtakingly beautiful would be the words I’d use to describe it. Our party of five was seated in a cozy circular booth along the back wall of the restaurant, and as a self-proclaimed Southern Belle, I immediately smiled when I spotted the stemless, amber water goblets that reminded me of pieces from my grandmother’s China cabinet.

SuccotashStarters
Clockwise: Weisenberger Mills Skillet Cornbread, Smoked Chicken Wings & Fried Green Tomatoes

We didn’t hesitate jumping into order. After reading the description (simply “Deliciousness”) for the Sticky Bun ($10), we definitely knew we wanted to start our meal off with one. We were a bit disappointed when our server returned to the table to let us know that the Sticky Bun was not actually being served that day, but we didn’t let us get it down for too long. We proceeded to order the Smoked Chicken Wings ($10), which are served with celery slaw and a white barbecue sauce; the Fried Green Tomatoes ($9), served with goat cheese, arugula, and a buttermilk dressing; and the Weisenberger Mills Skillet Cornbread ($9). We went in on those starters like a bunch of savage beasts! I regularly order Fried Green Tomatoes when they’re on a menu, and these are some of the best I’ve ever had. They were fried to perfection, and the accompaniment of the goat cheese and arugula salad took the flavor to a new level. We may or may not have been fork jousting for the last bite. The wings were equally delicious; they had a great smoky flavor, and I had never tried white barbecue sauce before, and it was quite tasty (check out a recipe for it here). I’m generally not a fan of cornbread (I know, revoke my southern card immediately) unless it’s really sweet (like Jiffy sweet), and the skillet cornbread from Succotash is unsweetened. At first bite, I didn’t fancy it, but then we ordered a side of honey and the sopping commenced. If you prefer your cornbread on the sweeter side, I would highly recommend ordering honey with yours.

Our entrees did not disappoint either. I have a thing for a tasty Pimento Cheese Burger ($15), so when I saw it on their menu, I knew immediately I would order it. Succotash serves theirs with some very delicious bacon jam; I could seriously eat it out of a jar with nothing but a spoon and a smile. The pimento cheese itself packed a punch, but it wasn’t overpowering. I wish we would’ve had an extra friend green tomato left over, because that’s the only thing I could think of that would make that burger even more delicious than it already was.  Two people in our party ordered the Fried Chicken & Waffles ($16), an absolute staple in southern cuisine. I love that Succotash serves only dark meat with this dish; dark meat is just more flavorful and juicy, in my opinion, especially when fried. They serve theirs with bourbon maple syrup and top it with shaved Manchego cheese and pickled okra. My friends did mention that the fried chicken could use a bit more seasoning, but it was nothing a little salt couldn’t fix. Overall, they both enjoyed the dish. If you prefer to eat clean, the Dirty Cobb Salad ($15) is absolutely what you shouldn’t order at Succotash (lol). The fried chicken breast is covered in the most delicious spicy and smoky sauce and served alongside bacon, avocado, egg, cornbread croutons, green beans, grape tomatoes, and buttermilk dressing. If you’re going to eat your veggies, this is most certainly the way to go! Baby steps, right?! Lastly, the Pulled Pork Sandwich ($13), served with collard greens and house pickles, was a hit, as well. The pork is dressed with a vinegar-based sauce, so if you fancy a more traditional barbecue sauce (like me), I would recommend ordering a side of the spicy, smoky sauce they use on the Dirty Cobb Salad. It might be a bit more messy, but definitely worth it.

SuccotashFriendsIt’s always great to catch up with friends over a good meal, and Succotash provides the perfect ambiance for a reunion or special event such as an anniversary or birthday. I will definitely be back at lunch or dinner to continue to taste my way through their menu. I’m ecstatic to have found a unique and delicious restaurant so close to my house!

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

Dishing on Farmers, Fishers & Bakers in Georgetown

Here’s the dish! If you like good food, you’re probably a fan of the farm-to-table concept. After visiting Founding Farmers this summer, I knew I wanted to try the Farmers Restaurant Group’s other concept, Farmers, Fishers & Bakers, on the Georgetown Waterfront (3000 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007). When my DC Metro Church #BrunchBunch planned an outing, I jumped at the opportunity. Those who have followed my food journey know that I love me some brunch; I consider it a 5th food group and my favorite meal of the week. But there are a few things that make me squeal on the inside like nothing else—bottomless mimosas and all-you-can-eat buffets (can you really blame a girl?). While Farmers, Fishers & Bakers doesn’t offer a bottomless drink option, they do offer the latter—a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet experience (because buffet doesn’t do it justice).

For just $29.99 per person, you can eat all your stomach can hold, as well as enjoy complimentary coffee and iced tea. Farmers, Fishers & Bakers also offers a brunch cocktail menu that includes individual and shareable drinks. Their “Farmacy” offers some non-alcoholic concoctions, such as the Scratch Soda I enjoyed while at their sister restaurant, as well as a more extensive offering of coffees and teas. While our table didn’t partake in any cocktails, Farmers, Fishers & Bakers also offers up an extensive “Fishers Tiki” menu with a variety of cocktails, fish bowls, and blended drinks, as well as cocktails blended with proprietary spirits distilled locally. Their libations are a little on the pricier side, ranging from $11 to $15 for individual drinks and $25 for shareable drinks, but they definitely sound delicious and worth trying. But enough about the drinks, let’s get to the main event—the food!

You can immediately become overwhelmed with the amount of offerings at Farmers, Fishers & Bakers (click here to check out their brunch menu). So I suggest you develop a game plan before you hit the field. I went in with no game plan, and I nearly ate myself into a food coma. I kept seeing so many things I liked, so I kept adding them all to my plate. I was nearly full after my overflowing first plate and had to take a moment to let my food settle before returning for a second plate. One of my brunch buddies was prepared and came up with this simple, easy-to-follow game plan:

  1. Make a plate of breakfast foods
  2. Make a plate of lunch foods
  3. Return for your favorites
  4. Finish with dessert (if there’s room)

Gardeners Table

The Gardeners Table at Farmers, Fishers & Bakers serves up a a large offering of yummy salads, chock full of seasonal ingredients. Because I visited at the end of the summer season, the Gardeners Table featured a very delicious Watermelon Salad and Kale Salad. If you love grapefruit like I love grapefruit, you will go crazy for their Brûléed Pink Grapefruit, which is topped with sugar and caramelized to perfection with a blow torch. I seriously ate three halves, and you all know how I feel about dishes that involve blow torches. They are always worth trying! Even people in my party who didn’t love grapefruit that much enjoyed this variation of the fruit, so definitely pick you up one (or three) on one of your visits to the buffet.

Butchers Table

The Butchers Table is where you can go zero to 100 real quick! They prepare fresh guacamole table side and offer up some pulled chicken and pork, tortilla chips, homemade taco shells (soft and crispy), and all the fixin’s for tacos and nachos. They offer hearty starch sides, including Farm-a-Roni (their take on Rice-a-Roni), Cheesy Grits, and Breakfast Jambalaya. But don’t go too crazy, because at the end of the table is the pot of gold—the Honey Pot Fried Chicken. Farmers, Fishers & Bakers fry up their chicken to perfection and drizzle it with delicious honey. I was amazed that, even after being drizzled and sitting on a buffet line, the chicken remains deliciously crispy. I didn’t have time to ask about their frying process, but know that this is a non-negotiable. You MUST try their fried chicken on your visit. You’ll thank me later!

Carving Table

The Carving Table offers more than its name gives on. As you would assume, Farmers, Fishers & Bakers offers up hand carved Slow Roasted Chuck Eye and House Cured Ham, but the Carving Table is also home to other brunch staples, including an egg station with pre-made and made-to-order scrambles and Sweet Bread French Toast. The French Toast was one of my favorites. Presented on griddles and served with a delicious Bananas Foster sauce, the French Toast literally melts in your mouth. If you think you might not like the sauce, I would still encourage you to taste it before writing it off. It boasts a rich caramel flavor with chunks of perfectly ripe banana in it.

Other Highlights

In addition to all the food at the buffet that you can help yourself to, servers also walk around with Traveling Trays of Eggs Benedict, Pizza, Sushi, and Fishers Fry (assortment of fried seafood). I, unfortunately, did not have room to sample any of these, but they looked delicious, and based upon the rest of the food there, I’m sure they taste delicious too. I also never made it to the Dessert Bar, but I passed it on the way to the bathroom. With a variety of cakes, pies, and other sweet treats made from scratch each day, you’re sure to find something to tickle your sweet tooth. I managed to over indulge on what I can say are some of the best Cinnamon Rolls I’ve ever tasted. The hot, light, fluffy, ooey, and gooey rolls are also served at each table upon arrival. I seriously had about four of them; they didn’t stand a chance.

The best advice I can give you if you plan on visiting Farmers, Fishers & Bakers is to have a plan, pace yourself, and wear nonrestricting clothing, such as leggings or a moo moo. You’ll thank me later!

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

Dishing on Beasley’s Chicken + Honey in Raleigh, N.C.

Here’s the dish! This past weekend, I traveled to Raleigh, N.C. for @NaturallyFashionable’s inaugural Blog with Kim Live workshop. There, I would meet up with some of my Blogger Baes from Atlanta—Kay from RunWay with Kay, Lisa from Unapologetically Lisa, and Je’Mia, who will soon be launching her blog about all the happenings in and around Atlanta. I arrived in Raleigh around 6:00 p.m. (right on schedule), and checked into the hotel to get ready for dinner. About 30 minutes into my routine, Kay texted me to let me know they were just leaving Gaffney, S.C. (about 3.5 hours away) and to proceed with dinner sans them. It turns out, they ended up taking the scenic route, which included a stop at an outlet mall (insert strong side eye).

Before we hit the road, I scoured Yelp and sent the ladies four restaurant options to choose from. Of those four options, I asked a previous co-worker, who now lives in Durham, about the choices, and he recommended Beasley’s Chicken + Honey. So I finished getting ready and hit the town for my solo exploration of the city and its food.

When I arrived at Beasley’s (located at 237 S. Wilmington Street, Raleigh, NC 27601), I asked for a table for one. There were no regular tables available, so the host asked me if the community table would be okay. I agreed and found a seat at the long table that stretched from one end of the restaurant to the other. Most would think being surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar city might be a bit overwhelming, but I reveled at the idea of enjoying my dining experience surrounded by people I didn’t know.

After I settled in, I was soon approached by my server for the night, Jeff. As he placed a mason jar full ice cold water down for me, he asked if there was anything else I would like to drink. Because I’m not a big drinker, and many of Beasley’s cocktails contained dark liquor, I opted for a good ol’ fashion Cheerwine. Now some of you might be wondering what Cheerwine is. Contrary to its name, it’s actually a non-alcoholic beverage—a cherry-flavored soda to be exact. Straight out of Salisbury, N.C. and dubbed the “Nectar of North Caroloina,” Cheerwine has been a staple in southern households since its creation in 1917. I don’t drink much sodas these days, but when there’s Cheerwine, I make an exception.

As I waited for Jeff to return with my Cheerwine, I began perusing their menu. Unlike most establishments, Beasley’s doesn’t have regular, hand-held menus. Instead its drink and food menu are etched on the chalkboard-paint-covered walls. I loved this non-traditional approach. I was beginning to notice the small details to set the atmosphere up for an evening of southern hospitality.

When Jeff returned with my Cheerwine, I took a big gulp of it before letting him know I wanted to start with the Fried Shrimp ($9.50), which include eight perfectly fried jumbo shrimp served with a delicious smoky tomato remoulade. Jeff went to put that order in while I continued to ponder over what I would order for dinner.

Beasley’s menu is a la carte—you can order chicken and other hearty entrees, individual sides for $3.50 each, or create your own veggie plate with three sides for $9.50. I ended up ordering a Quarter Fried Chicken ($7.50) with dark meat, Creamed Collard Greens ($3.50), and the Ashe Co. Pimento Mac & Cheese Custard ($3.50).

When I saw Jeff come out of the kitchen with my plate, I was like a kid on Christmas morning. Jeff was nice enough to indulge me and all my questions about my dinner. It turns out that Beasley’s double fries its chicken. They marinate the chicken in a special brine overnight. Then it spends some time hanging out in buttermilk before being dredged in mixture of flour, salt, and pepper. The initial fry is done beforehand in a pressure cooker. Once ordered, they fry it until it’s perfectly crispy and golden brown. Then they drizzle it with Be Blessed Pure Honey, a local honey purveyor. The Ashe Co. Pimento Mac & Cheese was gluttonously delicious. The cheddar used was from yet another purveyor local to North Carolina, and the pimentos added just enough sweetness to take this traditional southern dish to the next level in flavor. And I felt extra special because I was served a corner piece; we all know corner pieces are the best! The meatless Creamed Collard Greens were an interesting twist on one of my favorite southern staples. Braised in apple cider vinegar, Beasley’s adds a béchamel sauce to the greens. It reminded me of the broccoli, rice, and cheese casserole we all grew up with—just with collards. After I asked a few times, Jeff assured me there was no cheese added to the sauce, which was incredible to me because it had such a rich and creamy flavor. Again, putting a special touch on the experience with the little details, Beasley’s served this delicious meal in an aluminum pie tin. I smiled when I realized it because it reminded me of my maternal grandmother, who was one of my first culinary influences.

It turned out that a solo night on the town was just what I needed. I’m glad I ended up at Beasley’s because, even though I was a party of one, I never felt alone. Thanks for showing me your southern hospitality!

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

Dishing on Chaplin’s in Shaw

Here’s the dish! Now that I’m not babysitting like I have in previous years, happy hour comes in a close second to my favorite (liquid) meal of the week, right after brunch. After seeing some of my American University classmates at our CBC event earlier this month, we decided to reconvene for happy hour the next day. A friend in the group recommended Chaplin’s Restaurant & Bar in Shaw (located at 1501 9th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001), so I was excited to try something new.

After texting us the deets, I went straight to Google to check out what Chaplin’s had to offer. I was surprised to learn that Chaplin’s was a Japanese Ramen house! Boasting a 1920s theme, where servers and bartenders are adorned in black and white attire with suspenders as an ode to Charlie Chaplin, Chaplin’s immediately drew me in. Because I arrived a bit earlier than my friends, I took a seat at the bar where I met Margeaux (pronounced like Margo), my mixologist for the evening. After perusing the slightly overwhelming (in a good way) drink menu without any idea of what I’d like to order, I asked Margeaux for a recommendation. After assessing my likes and dislikes, she suggested The Cure ($12, but only $6 during happy hour), which she noted was also her favorite drink.

Her recommendation did not disappoint. A concoction of Elyx vodka, amaro, charred citrus, strawberry, sassafras, smoking rosemary (y’all she pulled out a blow torch!), The Cure was just the type of drink I love. It was sweet with flavors still interesting enough to excite someone who doesn’t normally order a sweet drink. And let’s be real, any drink that requires a blow torch is a drink worth trying. The aroma of the charred rosemary was delightfully intoxicating. Because I don’t drink a lot, I knew I’d go for a beer for my second drink. Again, Margeaux came through with a great recommendation of the Stiegl Grapefruit Ale ($7). I love grapefruit flavored beverages, and this beer was delicious! The tartness of the grapefruit and effervescence of the beer itself was very refreshing. Because it was on draft, it was also half off during happy hour. In addition to to their Drafty Spirits and beer on draft, Chaplin’s offers half off select bottles and cans during happy hour.

As my friends began to arrive, we were seated in a cozy window table with banquet seating, where our server Marilyn would take care of us for the evening. We immediately began ordering more drinks and appetizers. I passed along Margeaux’s recommendation for The Cure, and it was well-received by my friends. To start our meal, we ordered Edamame ($4); fried Beef Gyoza ($8), filled with Napa cabbage, chives, mushrooms, and garlic; and fried Chicken & Shrimp Shumai ($8), stuffed with water chestnut, garlic, onion, and oyster sauce. I highly recommend trying one of their Master Dumpling offerings, which they will steam or fry for you, because they are absolutely delicious.

After indulging ourselves in Chaplin’s delicious appetizers, we moved on to the main event—the Ramen! Our table pretty much ordered variations of two of the Ramen bowls—the Chaplin ($14), which includes pork belly Chashu, a seasoned egg, scallions, bean sprouts, black sesame paste, and Tankatsu flavor; and the Chaplin A.S.S. ($14), a spicy option featuring Asian spicy-sour chicken, scallions, lemongrass, coconut milk, red chillis, pork butt Chashu, bamboo shoots, and cilantro. Chaplin’s boasts a list of about 14 items you can add on to customize your Ramen just the way you like it. In addition to the Ramen, one friend ordered the Chicken Yakisoba ($12) as an entree, which featured pan fried Ramen noodles, napa cabbage, carrots, onions, bean sprouts, scallions, sesame oil, pickled ginger, and Yakisoba sauce. After tasting the Chaplin A.S.S., she ended up sending the Yakisoba back, but it wasn’t due to its lack of flavor; she just fancied something spicy, and the Yakisoba was more on the sweet side.

I really enjoyed everything that Chaplin’s had to offer. Their staff was friendly and very knowledgeable of the menu, and their food was amazingly delicious. They have an awesome string-lit patio that patrons can enjoy during warmer months, and I later learned from a friend who regularly visits that they show silent films in the upstairs section of the restaurant. They take their 1920s theme to another level with that! We really enjoyed our time there, and their staff seemed to enjoy us just as much as we did them. Just when we thought our night couldn’t get any better, the manager sent a round of shots to our table! That is, most certainly, how every dining experience should end!

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

Dishing on Zest Bistro on Barracks Row

Zest Bistro closed its doors for business in October 2015, shortly after this blog post.

Here’s the dish! After living in Southeast for a year, I’ve become obsessed with Barracks Row. I tend to patronize Alexandria a lot, just because I can get my city and suburbia living all on Route 1, but I was recently reminded about this very happening scene in Southeast. A few Sundays ago, I met a friend for brunch at Zest Bistro (located at 735 8th Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003), and I had an enjoyable experience there. Zest Bistro boasts a quaint, little patio and larger open-concept dining room, which, as you may know, I’m a huge fan of. I was a bit surprised when I arrived for our 1:30 p.m. reservation, and the restaurant was nearly empty (maybe only 10 other diners there at the time). My experience has been that when a restaurant is empty, usually the food or service (or both) isn’t that great. I definitely would not put Zest Bistro in that category of restaurants, but it was not the bustling brunch scene I’ve grown accustomed to in the D.C. area.

ZestMenu
Zest Bistro’s Brunch menu

As I waited for my friend to join me, I used this time to ask our server, Matt, about some things on the menu—primarily grits. While Matt was a Midwesterner (someone whose opinion of grits I normally would not trust), he had spent some time in Savannah, Ga., working at a restaurant where he ate grits daily, which immediately upped his grits street cred. After our pretty length conversation (about 5 minutes talking about grits alone because they are that serious to me) in which I learned their grits were probably a bit more thicker than I like mine, I narrowed my choices down to to the Chorizo Breakfast Tacos ($11.95) and the Chesapeake Benedict ($15.95).

Matt mentioned that he thought the portion of the tacos was a bit on the smaller side, and because of that, he always ordered a side of grits with that entree. Since I had already decided not to go the grits route, I ordered the Chesapeake Benedict, which features very moist lump crabcakes, poached eggs (which I substituted for eggs over easy), toasted sourdough bread and is served with applewood smoked bacon, spinach and basil hollandaise, homefries, and fruit salad. I also ordered the Crimson Fizz ($7), which is a delicious concoction of pomegranate juice, Cava sparking wine, and grenadine and nice contrast to my traditional brunch beverage, the mimosa. My friend ordered the Zest Breakfast ($9.95), which includes eggs anyway you like them, applewood smoked bacon, homefries, toast, and fruit salad, along with a Spicy Bloody Mary ($8), which indeed had a kick.

I consider myself a professional bruncher, and while the food at Zest Bistro was good, I didn’t find myself overly ecstatic about it. Their patio and open dining room with views of the kitchen were probably what most excited me about the dining experience, in addition to the fact that it’s probably the only brunch I’ve ever attended where I didn’t have to wait for a table. Their service was excellent, which I would expect from a restaurant that isn’t bustling during a weekend brunch. Our server was very attentive, and while I waited for my friend, two other people who weren’t our serve came over to check on me.

I have a few theories as to why Zest Bistro isn’t as packed as other restaurants during brunch. For starters their menu is a bit too simple. It doesn’t feature anything I would consider a signature dish for a restaurant, but instead, is filled with a bunch of items I could make from the comfort of my own home for much less. Their lack of a bottomless option for beverages might also be a culprit. While I enjoy my sparkling beverages, there was no way I was going to order more than one Crimson Fizz at that price. The food scene in the city is amazing, and you have to stand out to to get noticed. Zest Bistro plays it safe. Being safe isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but safe doesn’t get you a packed restaurant during prime brunching hours. I would still recommend the Zest Bistro, especially if you don’t have the time or patience to wait for a table at another restaurant.

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

 

 

Dishing on Blue Duck Tavern in Georgetown

Here’s the dish! My coworker recently raved to me about the Blue Duck Tavern in Georgetown (located at 1201 24th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037 inside the Park Hyatt), ensuring it would be a blog-worthy visit. I wrote it down on my list of recommendations people have given me since starting this blog. I knew I’d eventually make it there, but when I learned my DC Metro Church Brunch Bunch group was going to visit the legendary restaurant, I was ecstatic that my opportunity would come sooner than later.

When I arrived at the Blue Duck Tavern, I immediately fell in love with their open-kitchen concept. A perfect marriage of rustic and modern, patrons’ food is created out in the open for all to see. I literally walked through the pastry kitchen and a fresh batch of apple pies on my way to our table. As a food enthusiast, I loved the opportunity to get  an up close view of of the preparation and plating of the food. As an OCD clean freak, it was also nice to see the environment in which my food was being prepared. Blue Duck Tavern takes their level of accountability to a new level with their open-kitchen concept.

As I joined my group (at the Chef’s Table in a semi-private area of the restaurant), I immediately began perusing the menu offerings. I’m at a place in my journey with food exploration where I’m willing to try things outside of my taste palate at least once. When our group leader suggested ordering a few plates of the Wood Oven-Roasted Bone Marrow ($17), which they serve with everything bagel crust and spring garlic butter, for the table, I jumped at the opportunity to taste it. The perfectly seasoned marrow was loaded with coarsely ground spices and garlic and just might have been the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted! I can’t tell you how important it is to step outside of your comfort zone when visiting restaurants. The bone marrow is definitely something I would not have ordered on my own, but now that I’ve exposed myself to something new, it’s an item I will continue to order if offered at a restaurant. Having passed through the pastry kitchen on the way to our table, I opted for an order of Pecan Sticky Buns ($10) to start my meal. Loaded with tons of pecans (that’s pee-cans for us southerners, not pa-kahns) and drizzled in a warm caramel sauce, I ate more of the sharable starter than I anticipated.

Having started with perfectly sweet sticky buns, I knew I wanted something savory for my main course. The thing I love most about dining with large groups is it gives you the opportunity to see (and sample) more of the menu. We ordered a wide variety of entrees including Baked Eggs ($16), the Buckwheat Waffle ($15), the Short Rib Hash ($18), Blueberry Pancakes ($15), and Shrimp and Grits ($20). Everything was fresh and delicious, and they stayed true to their mission of serving “simple, rustic food with an artisan approach.”

The Blue Duck Tavern is definitely on the higher end of the scale of restaurants. At any given time of the day, you can bump into the heavy hitters of the city there, but they manage to maintain a high level of decorum without feeling too pretentious. If you’re looking to make an impression or celebrate a special occasion, it’s the perfect place to be a little fancy and spend a lot of money. While I enjoyed the food and the overall experience, the one (and only) thing I did not appreciate was their primarily a la carte menu. At theses prices, I just feel like sides should be included, not something you have to order in addition to your entree. I’ll definitely be back, in fact, I’m already planning to celebrate a special occasion with dinner there in the near future.

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

Dishing on Founding Farmers D.C.

Here’s the dish! Since moving back to D.C. just over two years ago, there are a few restaurants that repeatedly come up when I ask for brunch recommendations. One of those restaurants is Founding Farmers. With more and more people being more conscious about the food they put into their bodies, the farm-to-table concepts have taken off. Founding Farmers is no exception. When a friend invited me to brunch this past Sunday, I happily accepted, but when I found out we were going to Founding Farmers, I flipped!

While we had a 2:00 p.m. reservation, we thought we’d head over to the D.C. location (1924 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20006) early to see if we could get a table before then. As we exited the car on 20th Street and rounded the corner, we saw them—the crowd of approximately 20 people waiting for a table (it was worth a shot)!  As we made our way through the revolving door, we entered another crowd of people in the restaurant waiting for a table. This is a great sign of what was to come.

I normally like to explore the decor of the restaurant while I wait to be seated, but there was an overwhelming amount of people waiting, so I just found a seat in the back corner of the lobby and waited patiently with my friend until our table was ready at 2:00 sharp. After being escorted to our cozy upstairs table, we were greeted by our cheerful server, Madison. She immediately informed us that we were dining at the perfect time because we had the option to order from both the brunch and lunch menu.

We took a few moments to peruse the menu and ordered drinks. The Scratch Soda ($5) from the “Farmacy” immediately caught my eye, but I couldn’t decide between the grapefruit and hibiscus flavors (it also comes in orange, lemon-lime, ginger, vanilla, and a seasonal offering), so I asked Madison for a recommendation. She recommended the hibiscus flavor, so I ordered it because I have grown fond of hibiscus thanks to the Spiked Augua Fresca at El Centro D.F.’s bottomless brunch. My friend ordered the Corpse Reviver ($12) with Bombay gin, Kubler absinthe, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, and lemon. Neither disappointed. The refreshing Scratch Soda was a nice contrast of sweet and tart, and the Corpse Reviver was “tasty and provided a good balance of Cointreau and gin,” according to my friend.

Tomatoes
Fried Green Tomatoes with herb goat cheese and avocado green goddess

My friend already knew he wanted to start the meal off with some Fried Green Tomatoes ($8) from the lunch menu, so who was I to object? The perfectly fried southern delicacy was served with herb goat cheese and an avocado green goddess for dipping. Then we did something I wouldn’t normally recommend doing when dining with someone—we ordered the same thing—Chicken & Waffles. Now, before you get your panties all in a bunch, there’s a catch—I ordered the lunch version, and he ordered the breakfast version.

The Breakfast Chicken & Waffles ($12) comes with a full waffle, three boneless fried tenders, and eggs cooked any way you like them; white gravy is served on the side. The signature Chicken & Waffles ($16) on the lunch menu is a boneless, batter-dipped thigh and breast, half of a waffle, macaroni and cheese, and choice of a crop side; I ordered the Mint Watermelon with sea salt. Fried chicken and watermelon?! (I know!) They were two very different takes on the same meal, and we enjoyed them both. I was skeptical about the macaroni and cheese at first glance, but was immediately blown away from the blend of seven different cheeses, including white and yellow Cheddar, Gouda, Gruyere, Parmesan, Swiss, and Muenster.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I went with the lunch version of the Chicken & Waffles. While I always prefer bone-in over boneless chicken, the serving size of the lunch version was much more generous than the breakfast version, enough to share in fact. I also didn’t mind the smaller version of the waffle. I liked the fact that I could have two other sides with the lunch portion instead.

After all the hype, Founding Farmers did not disappoint. I’ll definitely be back to taste more of what they have to offer.

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

Dishing on Rustico Slaters Lane

Here’s the dish. I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this post, because quite frankly, I don’t want to do it. I knew the time would come when I would have to do it, but I didn’t think it would be this soon. I have to dish on a not so pleasurable restaurant experience.

A few Sundays ago (told you I’ve been dragging my feet on this), I joined a group of friends from DC Metro Church for brunch at Rustico on Slaters Lane in Alexandria (827 Slaters Lane, Alexandria, VA 22314). When I lived in McLean, I passed this restaurant every Sunday on my way to church and was always curious about their food. They have a great patio, which is always bustling in warmer months. I was excited to finally get the chance to check it out.

Upon entering the door, I fell in love with their eclectic style in decor. They have a featured mosaic tile wall that incorporated dinnerware and wine bottles, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. They continue the mosaic theme in the bathrooms, as well. As I waited for others in my group to arrive, I checked out their menu.

Brunch is pretty much my 5th food group, so as you can imagine, I was ecstatic to eat. After being seated, a few of us ordered some starters. I debated between the half portions of the Salt Roasted Beet Salad ($6) and the The Market Salad ($7) and eventually ordered the Market Salad, which features Lacinato kale, barley, blueberries, fennel, grapefruit, orange supremes, and a vanilla coriander vinaigrette. I was underwhelmed at the first bite. Because this salad listed kale as the first ingredient on the menu, I assumed it would be a leafy salad that featured all of the other ingredients. It was, in fact, a barley salad with rationed out portions of the other ingredients. Quite frankly, I’ve made more tasty grain salads with Blue Apron. I ordered it because I love grapefruit, fennel, and blueberries, and I’ve grown fond of Lacinato kale through Blue Apron recipes. There was literally one grapefruit segment, maybe three blueberries, and a sliver or two of fennel. The vanilla coriander vinaigrette was also another feature that initially drew me to the salad. I was eager to experience the warm notes of vanilla paired with the bright flavors of coriander, but again, the vinaigrette completely underwhelmed me; I could barely even taste it past the overwhelming taste of flavorless barley. Others ordered the Rustico Doughnuts ($8) and the Cheese & Herb Risotto “Tots” ($6). While both were more flavorful than my salad, I wasn’t blown away by either when I tasted them.

Shrimp&Grits
Shrimp & Grits are served with stone ground white grits, spicy Conecuh sausage, wilted greens, and caramelized onions.

When it came to choosing an entree, I was torn. I initially thought I would order the quiche, but after hearing that the featured quiche that day was a Cheesesteak Quiche ($13), I quickly decided against that (and I’m glad I did). Being the southern belle that I am, I gravitated towards the Shrimp & Grits ($14), which feature cheesy stone ground white grits, spicy Conecuh sausage (or Alabama gold, as I like to call it), wilted greens, and caramelized onions. Now, I always hesitate before ordering grits in the D.C. area because I’m from the south. People up here do the absolute most with grits, when in reality, all they need are water, salt, butter (and more butter), and cheese. I asked our server Kelly so many questions about the grits: “Are they thick or thinner?” “Can you stand a spoon up in them?” “Are they cheesy?” “What is the shrimp to grits ratio?” Can you tell that I’m particular about my grits? She assured me they were on the thicker side, but very cheesy and very tasty, so I decided to be adventurous and ordered them. Now, while I wasn’t impressed by the grits that I interrogated our server about, I was impressed with the shrimp, which were grilled to perfection, and the wilted greens, which was again, Lacinato kale. The grilled shrimp was a pleasant surprise. Most shrimp and grits I’ve had featured pan seared shrimp or shrimp smothered in some sort of gravy featuring sausage. Grilling them gave the dish an unexpected flavor layer. The wilted greens did the same while also adding some substance to the the dish, which was on the smaller side for a portion (about a spoonful of girts and five shrimp). They weren’t the best shrimp and grits I’ve had, but they weren’t the worst.

Among the group, our orders varied from traditional brunch offerings to classic lunch dishes.  I think if I returned (everyone deserves a second chance), I’d go for a lunch dish like a burger or pizza.

If I had to choose one word to sum up my experience at Rustico and the quality of their food, I’d choose mediocre. Additionally, I believe their food is overpriced. With tax and included gratuity (because of our party size), I spent $31 on a meal that didn’t blow me away. I don’t mind spending obscene amounts of money on good food, but for $31, I could’ve gone to Trader Joe’s and brought ingredients to make a more spectacular meal.

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

Dishing on Hank’s Oyster Bar Old Town

Here’s the dish! I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t like raw oysters. However, if you fry, bake, broil, saute, or grill them, I’ll eat them like it’s my job! When a new friend suggested trying Hank’s Oyster Bar in Old Town Alexandria (located at 1026 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314), I was game. <sarcasm>It’s a tough job, but I have to do “research” for this blog</sarcasm>. As I always do, I went straight to their website to check out their menu. I was excited right away because Hank’s changes their specials daily. I fancy a restaurant they tries to bring new concoctions and flavors to their patrons based upon what’s in season, or in Hank’s case, the freshest catch of the day. Although their specials change daily, they don’t change their offerings of starters, small plates, large plates, and meat offerings (yes, you can get everything from chicken, steak, and pork chops depending on the day of the week).

Upon arrival, I was immediately taken in by the modern charm of the bar area. The marble slab counter, leather seated stools, and nautically-inspired pendant lights were right up my style alley. To add to a bit of whimsy, they hung a chandelier over one of the high-top tables. My friend was running a bit late, so when a seat opened up at the bar, I grabbed it to enjoy a drink while I waited. Straying from the traditional bar nuts, Hank’s offers you a little bowl of Goldfish to enjoy with your drink. Those of you who know me (or whose children I’ve babysat) might have an idea of how much I love Goldfish. I thought it was a clever play on a traditional treat for a seafood restaurant. The drink special that day was a punch ($7) mixed with dark rum, cachaca, blood orange juice, pineapple juice, apricot nectar, lime juice, and angostura bitters. It was refreshing and delicious! Shortly after ordering my drink, my friend arrived, and we were seated immediately.

Fried Oysters
Hank’s famous fried oysters are some of the best I’ve EVER had!

Once seated, our server brought over some more Goldfish for us to enjoy while we glanced over the menu. After checking out food the patrons in the bar had ordered, I knew I wanted to try their fried oysters ($15). When I first saw the two ladies at the bar scarfing down the fried oysters, I thought for a second it was chicken. That’s Hank’s meat offering for Sundays, so it made sense at first glance. However, after inquiring about what they were devouring, I was surprised to find out they were oysters! They were HUGE and so meaty! I’ve had quite a few fried oysters in my life, and Hank’s are at the top of my “best fried oyster” list. I was curious about the source of the oysters, so I asked and learned they were Hama Hama oysters from Washington. Our server explained that the chef likes to fry these oysters because they provide a good meat to breading ratio. Averaging the size of an eos lip balm, they were at least twice, if not three times, the size of most fried oysters I’ve had. They serve them along side a homemade remoulade and fresh lemon wedges.

I was torn between which special to try—the scallops or the soft shell crabs. Our server, without hesitation, recommended the scallops ($29), which were jumbo diver scallops served over a local roasted corn relish with truffled balsamic reduction, so I ordered those. My friend ordered the (not-so) small plate of mussels ($14), which they steam in a garlic, tomato-based sauce and serve with bread. Every time I eat scallops, I judge them according to Gordon Ramsay’s standards. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Hell’s Kitchen, you’ll know why. It seems as though nothing pisses Ramsay off more than an imperfectly cooked scallop. If you present anything to him that’s not perfectly browned, succulently juicy, and God forbid, undercooked, heads will roll and plates will fly. My first words after tasting Hank’s scallops were, “Gordon Ramsay would be proud!” The caramelization on the scallops was pure perfection, and again, I was surprised by the size of them. My server assured me they were large when I ordered them (I always inquire about the number of scallops because I’m the captain of #teamGreedy), but I wasn’t expecting to be truly fulfilled by four scallops. After scraping my plate clean, I was stuffed!

Chocolate
Nothing like free chocolate to end a meal

Hank’s ends their meals in the same unique way they start them. They offer patrons a small bowl of dark chocolate to enjoy before they leave. I thought this was a nice touch. I love dessert, but honestly, I could not have eaten another thing after my meal because I was so full. The dark chocolate allowed me to feed my ever-constant sweet tooth without going overboard. And who doesn’t like free chocolate?!

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!

Dishing on Rasika West End

Those of you who know me personally know there aren’t many foods I don’t eat. I’ll seriously try just about anything once. There are a palmful (less than an handful) of cuisines I don’t enjoy, and Indian food would be at the top of that list. Now, I probably should’ve prefaced this by saying that my first experience with Indian food was not a good one. It just put bad taste in my mouth for the cuisine (literally), but that was years ago, and I’ve developed quite the sophisticated palate over the years. When my friends invited me to join them for lunch at Rasika West End (located at 1190 New Hampshire Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20037), I jumped at the opportunity to revisit Indian food.

If you’re going to try Indian food for the first time, lunch at Rasika is a good place to start. If you ask the average professional in D.C. for a recommendation of good quality Indian food, 90 percent of them would recommend Rasika. During restaurant week (coming August 17–23, 2015), it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation there. They’ve received a lot of accolades, including Chef Vikram Sunderam’s 2014 James Beard award for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region. Because I was revisiting the cuisine, I stayed up the previous night to scour their menu and read reviews on Yelp. It was a bit overwhelming because they offer so much. Luckily, I was dining with friends who had previously visited the restaurant, so that made ordering a bit less overwhelming. Before I delve into the dining experience, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to dish on the decor.

Rasika begins to stimulate your senses from the moment you walk in the door. While praised for their cuisine, the atmosphere they’ve set in the dining room only compliments the culinary experience. They are renown for their extensive wine cellar, and they take advantage of their extensive collection, displaying a wall of bottles in the breezeway that connects the bar area to the dining room. While we were seated at a regular table with a banquette and chairs, I immediately fell in love with their semi-private booths. If you’re looking to impress a date or want to celebrate something special with someone special, making a request for one of these booths when you make a reservation would be a good idea. They also have a library just above the main dining room. With the backdrop of a hearty collection of books, this area is available for private events and seats up to 50 people. While I didn’t get a chance to view it on my visit, Rasika also has a Chef’s table that can accommodate up to 12 guests. According to their website, President Obama celebrated his 52nd birthday in this private dining corridor. Now, on to the main attraction—the food!

We began our culinary journey by sharing a few starters. Rasika is known for its Palak Chaat ($10), which is flash-fried, crispy spinach topped with yogurt, tamarind, and dates. Point blank period—it’s the tastiest spinach I’ve ever eaten! The texture is similar to seaweed, but it’s lighter and much more pleasing to the palate. The Tuna Chutneywala ($14) was a soft, buttery tower of ahi tuna, coconut, cilantro, and kachumber. I’ve never had tuna so fresh and delicious. After reviewing the menu and various Yelp reviews, I knew I wanted to try the Mango Shrimp ($12), and I am glad I did. The succulent shrimp, basted with fresh mango puree and grilled to perfection, were paired with flavors of cashews, ginger, and coriander. We rounded out our appetizers with a Bread Basket ($8) that included traditional naan, onion sage naan, and a green-hued mint paratha. We all ordered iced tea, which was a pleasant surprise. The fruity, floral flavor of the tea complimented all of the food we ordered well.

We continued our exploration of the East with the selection of our main courses. Because lamb is such a commonly cooked meat in Indian cuisine, I knew I wanted to try an entree featuring lamb. I wasn’t quite adventurous enough to try something heavy-laden with sauce, so I opted for the Tandoori Lamb Chops (available in servings of one, two, or three chops for $12, $24, or $36). They were so tender and practically melted in my mouth, and highlighted the flavors of mace, cardamom, cashews, and ginger. Served with a delicious mint sauce, I savored every bite of the the tender chops. One of my friends ordered the Red Snapper Mappas ($20), which was covered in a flavor-packed sauce with coconut milk, fennel, and malt vinegar and served over a bed of rice vermicelli. I would definitely order this dish again on another visit. A lot of times, fish portions in restaurants are small and not fulfilling, but the red snapper was a healthy serving of tender fish that essentially covered the entire plate. My other friend ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala ($17), which Rasika noted as the official dish of England on their menu. Served with a side of basmati rice, the tender chicken is covered in a bright orange sauce that packs lots of punch.

Because we were in full-blown “treat yo’self” mode at this point, we ordered dessert. Now, I usually always go for the chocolate item on the dessert menu, but after thoroughly enjoying the Mango Shrimp, I opted for a mango-flavored dessert. I tried the Rose-Mango Kulfi ($9), which featured a mango macaroon, layers of mango- and rose essence-flavored ice cream, and blackberries. I never would’ve imagined to pair these flavors, but altogether, they complimented each other well. The visual effect of the layers, once I enjoyed my first bite, was beautiful, as well. My friends shared the Chocolate Samosas ($9), which Rasika served with mocha ice cream ($9). Placed atop a schmear of berry coulis, the samosas were light and crispy. I don’t know how you feel about Phyllo dough, but I think it makes everything taste better. Whether wrapping something savory or sweet, the light crispiness of the unleavened dough just does something to me!

Our indulgent meal was a bit more expensive than I am used to spending for lunch. I often recommend people try new restaurants at lunch, rather than dinner, to enjoy the culinary experience without breaking the bank. We spent close to $150 for three people at lunch (yikes!), which is definitely outside of my regular budget I’d be comfortable spending on a lunch. But don’t fret. Rasika does offer a Pre-Theatre menu that is only $35 and available for dinner until 6:30 p.m. You have a limited choice of starters, entrees, and dessert, but it’s a great option to explore their menu at a more reasonable price point. And again, if you can manage to book a reservation during restaurant week, you can again explore their offerings for $22 at lunch or $35 at dinner.

Until next time, folks. Keep dishing!