Sunday, July 10, 2011

Surfside - Glover Park, Washington, D.C.

Date night... Mexican style!  A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of enjoying Surfside with a couple of friends for some delicious soft tacos.  I had heard a lot about Surfside and had enjoyed eating it with friends at a catered dinner on New Year's Eve.

When I went with friends,  I liked the upbeat Mexican joint, which is located in Glover Park in D.C., (a preppy quaint area near Georgetown) but did not think all of the talk was what it was cracked up to be... that changed last evening!  During my first trip to the restaurant, I opted to have the shrimp tacos.  I remember being very conflicted because there also tilapia and steak tacos to choose from as well as burritos.  But in the end I landed on the shrimp.  They were pretty good, but like what often happens with shrimp, I left a little hungry and just a touch disappointed.

What's good and bad about Surfside is that there are a ton of options. The bad of this is that it makes it hard to choose.  The premise is this - decide if you want tacos, burritos, quesadillas or a salad.  Then decide if you want to make your own or just get one of the suggested prepared options.  What can get tricky is if you decide to make your own.   Do you go with the tilapia, which is viewed in high regard? The nicely marinated skirt steak? Or, do you stick to the traditional chicken?  My one beef with Surfside (no pun intended) and the one thing I would change is that you can not get a combo - two tilapia tacos and one skirt steak for example.  The joint will have to get docked on dumplings in my final score to come for this reason.

But last night I made a last minute switch and decided not to make my skirt steak tacos and instead make my own skirt steak burrito. OMG.  Best burrito of my life.  For those of you reading this who live in Boston, yes it was better than Anna's and Jose's burritos from Towers.  I nailed the combination of ingredients in my burrito.  Many of you probably wouldn't like what I chose because I did not opt for the spicy route... my stomach just does not allow it, but the grilled corn, pineapple salsa and special sauce, which I don't know if I accidentally got or they put it in every burrito was delicious.  I would also eat that steak every single night for dinner if I could.  The marinade is just to die for.

Here's the thing though. I can't get the steak burrito every single time because it's not exactly heart healthy, so I look forward to trying the tilapia tacos on my next visit.

Now for my score.  Typically, I do not take into consideration my guest's reaction to the food, but since Chris did not love his quesadilla nearly as much as my burrito coupled with the fact you can't do combos and my first experience was just ok, I am choosing to give Surfside 3.75 dumplings out of 5 with the opportunity to rise from that.  Hey, if someone working from Surfside reads this and decides to do combos, then you will definitely be getting a 5!  For now, Surfside will continue to have a special place in my heart and stomach because of that burrito!

P.S. Pictures to start coming soon!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Il Michelangelo - Boonton, NJ

New Jersey knows how to do Italian.  This is one thing I have learned time and time again.  You just can't find a chicken parmesan in D.C. like the chicken parm you get in New Jersey!  This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to my boyfriend's sister's (Michele's) 30th surprise party.  When we saw that we would be going to Il Michelangelo, an Italian place that Michele had talked about in length the last time she visited, we knew not only would there be great company, there would be great food.

Now I would just like to caveat that this dining experience was a little bit different than the restaurants I typically review as we were part of a private party in a special room upstairs.  For this reason, I can't comment on the overall dining or date night experience, which leads me to talk at length about the food.  I also can't promise that all of these dishes are normally on the menu.  Just don't want there to be any Petit Food Lover backlash, so forgive the disclaimers!

Hands down, I would say that Il Michelangelo fed us the best stuffed mushrooms I have ever had and Italian style pork.

The meal started with your favorite Italian restaurant hors d'oeuvres - fried calamari, mini risotto balls (Michele's favorite) and the stuffed mushrooms.  I should have really paced myself considering what was to come, but I definitely pigged out during the appetizer course because it was so good.

Next came the penne a la vodka.  Now typically I would not have this dish because my stomach tends to revolt when I eat tomato, but I could not pass it up and it was delicious. I truly appreciated the peas and prosciutto mixed into the sauce.

After the penne, we had caesar salad, which was delicious, but I must admit I could only have a couple of bites.  The last course was a choice between chicken parmesan (Chris chose this obviously), an eggplant rotini and a pork dish with a demi glaze.  Since I had maxed out on the tomato front with the penne, I chose the pork and it was AMAZING.  It reminded me of a chicken marsala sauce, but slightly thicker.  The pork was stuffed with apricots, breadcrumbs and raisins.  I could eat that pork and those mushrooms forever.

I have to give a special shout out to Michele's hubby, Drew for planning a wonderful meal.  I would go back to Il Michelangelo every single time I am in New Jersey.

Il Michelangelo you get 4.5 dumplings out of 5.  Saving .5 for the next time when I experience the typical dining experience!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

El Quim - Barcelona, Spain

Many of you have given me a hard time about my food blogging lately and rightly so!  I have been a slacker, but my hiatus is officially over and I have an exciting first post back in store for you.

About a year and a half ago, Chris and I had been chatting about taking an actual vacation.  Not a couple days off, but an actual full week off.  Since traveling to Europe is one of my passions and since Chris had never been to Europe, we decided to take a trip to Spain!  We chose to visit two cities since we only had a week and we didn't want to feel like we needed a vacation when we got back.  After some consulting with friends, we agreed on Barcelona and Seville.

I would have to say that my first experience traveling to Spain was not my favorite - and a lot of it had to do with the food, so my expectations going into this trip food wise were not very high.  I feared my stomach would give out and I would not be a happy camper.  I was wrong - and Spain you proved me wrong!  What I learned while traveling with Chris there was that sometimes the best places are the smallest or cheaper places (known as tapas bars in Spain) and not the fancy four star restaurants.

So that brings me to El Quim.  I have to give a shout out to my colleague Tom who had recently been to Barcelona and had said El Quim was the best meal he had there.  I also need to thank the Frommer's Barcelona Day By Day  book, which highlighted El Quim.  That book did not steer us very wrong for most of the trip!

El Quim is tucked away in the Boqueria.  For those of you who don't know what that is, picture an amped up Eastern Market, but better.  One of these days when I take my blog to the next level and actually include photos (I know, I know), I'll post the pictures of the gorgeous ham, mouthwatering cheese, beautiful flowers, and unbelievable candy displays!  Within the Boqueria though, are mini tapas bars/stands full of locals enjoying lunch and breakfast.  One of the things I liked most about El Quim, was I felt like we weren't doing the tourist thing.  You have to be patient and wait at the bar for people to get up, but it's worth the wait.

Now enough preamble. The meal.

One thing Chris and I developed a passion for food wise while we were there were the croquettes - kinda like a hush puppy meets a chicken nugget or mozzarella ball depending on the type of croquette you get.  El Quim had roasted chicken croquettes, so we knew that was a given.  Another cool thing to do at El Quim is take a look at all of the food in the open cases (the specials for the day).  Almost immediately, I noticed artichokes prepared in a way I had never seen before.  They turned out to be roasted artichoke chips and they were hands down the best tapas I ate in Spain.  Chris even liked them and he and vegetables do not get along.

I also paid attention to what the locals were eating.  Almost every pair there had a plate of jamon - ham.  I have to tell you that the ham in Spain is unlike any ham you will EVER eat in America.  If you aren't a vegetarian or kosher, I highly recommend trying it.  And finally, we had read that the eggs were quite delicious so Chris and I split fried eggs with ham (yes, it was a ham happy trip), which were some of the best eggs I have ever had.  A cold crisp beer finished the meal off and we were both truly happy.

If you are traveling to Spain, I strongly encourage that you check out the incredible tapas bars that are throughout the country.  El Quim was my favorite, but I am sure there are many more hidden gems Chris and I did not discover.

I promise more posts are on there way including an overview of my favorite meal in Seville. Croquettes are involved again!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bibiana - Washington, D.C.

I won't bore all of you with another introduction about how I think the Italian food in Washington, D.C. is poor!   I will say that when a colleague of mine sent me a link from Esquire Magazine with a review of Bibiana, I knew I had to try it for restaurant week.

So on the last night of restaurant week, a very cold, Sunday, Chris and I ventured out for a comforting Italian meal.  We each started the evening with delicious choices - I chose a fried risotto ball with mozzarella cheese and Chris chose a polpette (or large meat ball) over polenta.  I would venture to say that for me the appetizer dish was my favorite of the evening with a close second going to the dessert.  The risotto ball was delicious and perfectly fried.  The risotto oozed out and hit the spot on a cold night. While I tend to avoid tomato at all costs, I did eat up the dusting of marina on the bottom of the plate since it was so well prepared.  Chris' meat ball also blew me away.  High points for the appetizer course all around!

On to the entree.  Many of you may not know that I have a weakness for sage, butter and veal.  I know a lot of people do not like veal, which is completely understandable, but it just happens to be a meat I have grown up eating and very much enjoy.  So when I saw there were veal-filled ravioli served with a butter and sage sauce on the menu, I nearly jumped out of my chair.  To clarify, I made this discovery at my office five days before going to the restaurant, so I went into Bibiana full well knowing what I was going to get.  The dish was delicious and I would only rank it third of the three dishes I had that evening because I was so pleasantly surprised by the appetizer and dessert.  I will say that during this course, I felt a little rushed and did not appreciate when the waitress watched me eat my last bite before taking away my plate.  Chris also enjoyed his beef cheeks served over... wait for it...polenta.  In retrospect, he probably should not have gotten two polenta dishes, but he did really like it.

Finally, for dessert, I ordered chocolate sorbet and Chris ordered panna cotta. I had never had panna cotta before, but as soon as I tasted Chris' dessert, I knew I would need to trade dishes with him because it was to die for!  It turned out to work out very nicely because Chris happens to love chocolate sorbet.  The panna cotta was served with crumbled amaretto cookie on top, which sealed the meal for me.

Overall, Chris and I had a great time at Bibiana, but I think we would have both liked to spend more time there.  We were finished eating in about an hour, which can happen for restaurant week, but still....  I also wish that Bibiana were a touch more affordable since we all know D.C. could certainly use an affordable Italian joint.  Bibiana you get 4.25 dumplings out of 5.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bistro Bis - Washington, D.C.

When Washingtonian came out with its 2011 Restaurant Guide, I knew what to refer to to make my restaurant week reservations.  I decided on two places - Bistro Bis and Bibiana.  Bistro Bis had long been recommended by my good friend, Laura and it ranked as number 15 on Washingtonian's list.  And if that's not enough, passing on a fabulous traditional French menu is just not something I do!  (For those of you who don't know my mother is French and happens to be a fantastic French cook.)

I am thrilled to say that Bistro Bis did not disappoint.  In fact, it was one of the top two meals I have had in D.C.  Yahoo!!  (The other to date being Central.)  I started the night with a unique salad with a poached egg on top, mushrooms and bacon.  While the salad was a touch on the salty side, for those of you who like bacon, I highly recommend it.  The egg blended nicely with the dressing to make it thick and creamy.  It was a very satisfying first course.

My favorite course of the night, however, was the entree.  While there were many dishes that stood out to me on the menu like the scallops, duck and steak, I kept coming back to the trout...maybe because it had a butter emulsion caper sauce!  It was by far and away the best fish I have ever had - delicately cooked, but incredibly flavorful!  And instead of serving a side of potatoes and green beans, they were sprinkled on top of the fist to add a little crunch.  My friend also enjoyed her duck served with garlic, thyme, tomato and white beans.  (She got the same salad to start.)  Together, we split the pommes frite, an additional $9, but worth every bite of grease.

For dessert, I decided to take Washingtonian's advice and end the meal with the bistro apple croustade, similar to an apple strudel.  It was divine - so sweet and yummy and the pastry was prepared perfectly!

My only beef with the meal (no pun intended) was our unfriendly waiter.  My friend and I really enjoyed our meal and we were in the mood to be friendly and social, but our waiter just was not having it.  He was all business and quite frankly a little rude.

For that reason alone Bistro Bis will not get a perfect score, but it will get pretty darn close!  Bistro Bis you get 4.9999 dumplings out of 5.  Next up, Bibiana!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cafe Michelina - Hoboken, N.J.

Now Hoboken knows how to do Italian! When I first went to Hoboken I was blown away by all of the Italian restaurant options. Repeatedly, I was drawn to Tutta Pasta because I loved the name and the menu had a wide variety of non tomato options. While the restaurant lived up to the name and my expectations, each time we went there, Chris would reflect on his favorite Italian restaurant in Hoboken - Cafe Michelina - the best chicken parmesan he ever had!! He finally persuaded me to try this Italian establishment over the holiday vacation.

The minute you walk into the restaurant, you can tell it is a gem and run by a lovely Italian family. The staff is very nice and bent over backwards to make sure five of us could get a table on a night where it was already packed with reservations (including a table with what must have been more than 20 people).  The menu is full of Italian favorites such as baked ziti, chicken francese, penne vodka and more.

On this particular night, I was feeling overloaded by all of the food we had consumed over the vacation, so I opted for a "lighter" dish and chose the shrimp scampi. Oddly, I liked and disliked the dish for the same reason. What I liked about Cafe Michelina's version of shrimp scampi was that it was very light and not overloaded with garlic. Instead, it was prepared in a lemon wine sauce and served over spaghetti and I didn't leave feeling too full, which often happens with Italian. That said, I did think the dish slightly lacked an element of flavor, which might prevent me from ordering it in the future unless I am again craving something light.  

But what truly knocked my socks off was Chris' chicken parmesan. He was right! I could only try a little bit because of the tomato, but it was beyond delicious. I would highly recommend it so much so that I am eager to get back to Hoboken soon so I can try the establishment's chicken francese. (I saw this come out of the kitchen and it looked amazing.)

Most of all, I would choose Cafe Michelina if you are catching up with good friends. We had a great time and the fact that the restaurant is your BYOB added to the charm.

Cafe Michelina you get 4.5 dumplings out of 5. Good pick, Chris!

Monday, December 27, 2010

D.C. Noodles - Washington, D.C.

When I heard there was a new restaurant in D.C. called D.C. Noodles, I immediately needed to go. Asian food and noodles combined, oh my!! Unfortunately, it took me some time to get there, but when I finally did, this D.C. noodle hot spot did not disappoint. Located on U Street, D.C. Noodles is apparently the place to be. A cool vibe with a fun bar, I recommend making a reservation if you plan to check this place out on a Friday night. If you feel like winging it though, no worries. The bar is fun and the restaurant has a good selection of beers.

The menu is uniquely organized by the type of noodle you want (soup, cold noodle salad, noodles from the wok, etc.), which I very much appreciated. Chris and I both ended up ordering off the wok section of the menu -  he chose the drunken noodles (no surprise there) and I chose a new dish - Mee Sua, egg noodles with your choice of chicken, pork, beef or shrimp. This time, I opted for the beef and I was quite happy with my selection and glad I ended up trying something new. The best way to describe the dish was very tasty. I know that's not super descriptive, but I just couldn't stop eating it.

It was a great date and a nice surprise because neither of us were expecting it. I am pretty certain D.C. Noodles will become one of our favorites in the future.

D.C. Noodles you get 4 out of 5 dumplings.