July 18, 2006 | By Adam Roberts | 21 Comments
I approached our trip to D.C. this past weekend with a new attitude. The new attitude went something like this: “Let’s not obsess about our meals; researching and investigating potential dining destinations. Let’s go with the flow and just have fun.” And for the most part that’s what we did. I even forfeited a reservation at Cafe Atlantico (which, after reading much about it, is difficult to appraise in terms of its D.C. dining status: I know Jose Andreas owns it, I know minibar upstairs is a huge draw, but Tom Sietsema in his D.C. dining guide says the food at Cafe Atlantico is past its prime). Instead we ate tapas on the roof of Talbac, which allowed for a view of the Washington monument and the Capitol. Otherwise, my favorite meal consumed was at Teaism.
All the factors that make for a pleasant dining experience–location, food, atmosphere, service–came together beautifully the morning we went to Teaism (with the possible exception of service since Teaism is basically self-service.) Both Craig and I had cilantro scrambled eggs with tea smoked salmon (both very well made) and we washed it down with the signature Chai Tea. Craig declared, “This is the best Chai Tea I’ve ever had.” Unlike the usual chemical compound served from a box at Starbucks, everything about the Teaism Chai Tea is fresh, bright and pleasantly elusive. “Is that cinnamon?” you might ask yourself. “Star Anise?” Teaism Chai Tea is a beautiful mystery.
Otherwise, I’m embarrassed to say, we ate pretty shamefully on the Mall. But by all accounts that’s what you must do when in such a touristy area. It’s funny how excited people get at the existence of a McDonalds. I heard one group of tourists tell another group of tourists: “There’s a McDonald’s behind the Air & Space museum.” “Oh good!” said the other group, delighted.
Craig, who got hungry after several hours of museum going, had a sudden hankering for a Quarter Pounder. “This is going on my website,” I chastised him. He posed defiantly:
I watched him eat his burger, snacking on a few of his fries, and then I finally caved and asked for a bite. You know what? Snobbery aside, it tasted pretty good. In fact I made the comment (and I may eat crow for this one): “It tastes a little like the Shake Shack burger.” Craig, surprisingly, agreed.
On Sunday morning for brunch, Lauren led us to Busboys and Poets, a really fun, really interesting spot in the slowly-getting-gentrified U Street Corridor. My eggs benedict was quite tasty and I liked browsing the book shop at the end.
And that, my friends, is essentially what we ate in D.C.
January 10, 2005 | By Adam Roberts | 9 Comments
Today I kept my readers in deep, profound suspense by keeping my D.C. Weekend experience a secret. What did he do? What did he eat? You guys seriously had no idea.
Well now let us pull back the curtain and reveal all the remnants of the food inside my stomach. What’s that we see there? Duck? A chili dog? A warm cup of chai tea? (Doesn’t that belong in your bladder?) What a fascinating array of curiosities! Please, Mr. Gourmet, tell us all about it!
And that I shall, children. That I shall.
It began on Thursday night when I arriv-ed via train. I cannot even beGIN to tell you how fun it was to take the train from Penn Station to Union Station in DC. This is the first long journey I’ve ever taken by train in America (I once went from Venice to Paris on a high school class trip, during which something horrible happened.*)
(*If I were more web savvy I’d make it so you could click that asterick and a little window would open to tell you the grotesque story I’m about to tell you. Unfortunately, I’m not web savvy. You must suffer the grossness to continue. Basically, here’s what happened: there were 6 guys in a train car. One guy, who we will call “D,” decided to drink an entire bottle of red wine before getting on the train. Do you see where this story is going? A couple of hours in, he puked everywhere–and I mean EVERYWHERE. Have you ever been crammed into a train car with six people going from Venice to Paris with the smell of red wine vomit clogging your nostrils? Let me tell you, my friends, it’s as terrible as it sounds. Aren’t you glad we took this diversion? No? Your brutal honesty is devastating.)
Anyway, Thursday night—what did we eat?
We went to Komi.
Most of these recommendations come from the kind people who responded to my initial DC post and the kind people at eGullet who so generously made a list of suggestions (some of whom actually e-mailed them to me personally). Komi was on several lists.
So before I seem ungrateful, let me make sure I thank everyone who took the time to do that. As you will see when we get to Palena, some of these suggestions paid off in spades. Others (like Komi) didn’t fare so well.
See, the thing is, Komi is probably very capable of producing great meals. Rumor has it the chef is younger than me and that he has a very dedicated following. I believe it. The place is unpretentious and cute and in a fun location. The appetizer was promising, featuring crab and sea urchin and avocado and blood orange:
The presentation surpassed the taste; but the taste was great as it was. And there was also an amuse bouche—a mushroom cappucino, which Lauren presents here:
Actually, this was really good too. I suppose the reason I’m not raving about Komi is because of my entree. I had duck prepared three ways: duck breast, duck confit, and duck ham.
The presentation was, again, beautiful–but believe me when I tell you that the duck had zero flavor. Lauren confirmed it. I’m not sure what happened, but the duck breast was a chore to eat. The confit was better but not fantastic. And the duck ham had value as a novelty, but did little to improve my already tainted impression.
Lauren really enjoyed her pork, so again–I don’t want to turn anyone against Komi. I was just deeply scarred by the duck.
These mushrooms were good:
But I was still disappointed. In fact (and this is big for me) I suggested to Lauren that we not eat dessert there, that we go to Teaism instead. She was glad to oblige.
So we walked to Teaism, which many suggestors had suggested. We had chai tea and a salty oatmeal cookie.
I loved the salty oatmeal cookie. I love unexpected successful combinations of flavors, and this is certainly one such example. And as for the Chai tea, it was top notch–but I still prefer the Chai tea I had at The Coffee Table in Silverlake (California). (It was there that I saw Aimee Mann and Michael Penn two summers ago; which is, I suppose, a non-sequiter but a good one at that.)
Next Day, Lunch: Colorado Kitchen
Here’s a winner. Are you ready? Colorado Kitchen:
Everything about it was great. The shrimp, the bread, the remoulade, and especially the homemade potato chips. Lauren kvelled over her egg salad sandwich. She said, with bombast (<--hey, I just used the word bombast): "This is the best egg salad sandwich I've ever had!" (I think there were sun-dried tomatoes in it, in case you were curious.)
Now then, the final meal we’re going to cover, since the rest of the trip is either on the video I’m about to post above or a burrito we ate after seeing Million Dollar Baby. This meal knocked all the other meals out of the running, it was that good. Where was this meal? Dundundundun (<--trumpet music): PALENA.
Our dinner at Palena was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. I know these bold statements become useless the more I make them, so I’ll put it another way. If the best meals I’ve eaten in my life were the US Olympic Gymnastics Team, and each member had to pull his or her own weight over the course of history, Palena would be the Hamm Twins. (OK, that metaphor made no sense, but I think you see what I mean. And, besides, Hamm Twin humor is underdone.) (Hahaha, underdone Hamm.) (Rimshot.)
Ok, let’s start with our waiter. We had the best waiter ever. We loved him. He wins Best Waiter Award 2004. Or is it 2005?
He noticed I was taking pictures (see above) and he said: “Can I ask what the pictures are for?” And we told him, and he got very excited and enthusiastic. (Not that he recognized the site, but he was excited that we were foodies). He told us all about the chef—how the chef used to be the chef at The White House. (We asked for funny stories, and he told us that President Reagan (one of the presidents the chef worked under) used to ask for hamburger soup whenever Nancy was away. When Nancy was there, she didn’t allow it.) (Also, Nancy was very finnicky—she made him try a million different recipes before deciding upon the perfect brownie.)
Anyway, our waiter made our dinner a pleasure. I want to say his name was Eric–I’m 99% sure it is–but I’ll have to confirm that with Lauren tomorrow. He really helped me with the menu; pushing me to try Palena’s signature appetizer—are you ready for this?—a salad of beets, smoked halibut and blood orange. Yes I know that sounds crazy, but look at it:
It’s the prettiest presentation ever. And look even closer. Do you see all the exciting things I got to stab my fork through? There was the halibut, the beets, the tiny blood orange slice; but also, there was a dried blood orange slice, and a gelatinous mound that I still can’t identify in my memory but that made the whole experience incredibly exciting.
(Lauren got gnocchi and raved over it.)
For my main course, I took Eric’s suggestion and ordered the Mixed Grill with tuna, shrimp and (what I thnk was) thickly sliced smoked salmon? (You can’t see the last one in the picture anyway):
This was also delicious. The sauce was great, the tuna was great, the shrimp was great. Everything was great. Lauren’s was even greater: she got the Venison, and had brilliant combinations of flavors on her plate. We were in culinary ecstasy.
And then there was dessert. Mmm, dessert. What did I get? An apple tart with pistachio pastry and grapefruit sorbet:
It was divine.
Then Eric brought us a plate of complimentary cookies. We could barely eat them. This is what I call fine dining!
By the time we left, we had huge grins on our faces. This was the perfect meal. The best, we believe, DC has to offer. (Though there are many many other places we didn’t try, yet.) In any case, I leave you with that—Palena. Perfection. Hamm Twins. Oops. Goodnight!