Results tagged “Dining” from Big Money Tony

macsspeedshop.jpgSo I'm back writing. Work has kicked my ass the last couple of months. I haven't had time to read other blogs, let alone write. But things have finally calmed down a bit.

A couple of weekends ago, The Sports Freak, Q, and I went to Charlotte, NC. We had 2 reasons to go, as we have a friend living there, and the Redskins were playing the Carolina Panthers. Well, this was a great idea in the pre-season when the Redskins looked like a middle of the pack team, not the debacle they have become. If you want to read more about our thoughts on the game, see here. But what I'm writing about here is food.

Our Charlotte friend told us about the great city, how as a Northerner, he loved the pace and lifestyle the South and particularly his current home city provides. The three of us had visited before, but we were barely there a day so we didn't experience the city much. This time, we got to some of the restaurants.

We flew down Saturday morning, arriving just in time for lunch. So after checking in at the hotel and meeting up with our friend, we all headed over to the South Blvd location of Mac's Speed Shop. From the outside, it looks like almost any restaurant. But the tiny parking lot was packed. Always a good sign. Going instead it was even better. The place was definitely full inside as well, but lucky they had a table for 4. While they had regular tables, much of the seating are bar height tables and stools, which is where we were seated. The place seems to be more of a bar with a large bar seating area, but is appropriate for the style. TV's showing sports all around and the diners ranged young and old, from yuppies, professionals, and yes, bikers.

The picture above was what I ordered was "A Little Bit of It All". Meaning literally. There was BBQ Chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket, and ribs for meat. 2 sides and Texas toast accompanied the big plate. For my sides, I ordered the mac and cheese and onion rings. That was a lot of food.  We also made the great choice/mistake of ordering a plate of hushpuppies to start.  The hushpuppies were better than what I've had before, but I only had one, because the entrees came up quick.  The ribs were outstanding.  Some of the best I've ever had.  Just enough sauce and they were meaty and tender.  The pulled pork was good.  I've had better, but the amount they served was unbelievable.  If you imagined a roll to make a sandwich, make sure you have at least 2 rolls, as I think they slaughtered a whole pig for the amount on each plate.  The beef brisket was good.  The Sports Freak ordered just the brisket and he thought it was excellent.  I didn't get to it much until I had already gone through all the ribs and much of the other meat, so I was already full.  The disappointing part of the plate was the chicken.  it was almost as if they roasted the chicken without seasoning then basted and sauced right before serving.  The sides were great.  The mac and cheese was crunchy on top and creamy in the middle.  The onion rings had a nice and crisp coating, but had the snap I like with the onion.

I would definitely go back again, but would order only the ribs.  They were that good.  Oh, "A Little Bit of It All" at $16 implies there is a bigger plate.  Yes, for only $10 more, you can get "A Whole Lot of It All".  I don't know who any one person can eat that much.  I was served enough food to feed a family of 4 for 3 nights.  I left at least a normal plate of food.  As for service, it's not fine dining, but it's good service.  The staff all seem to have some ink on them.  If you have the chance, try one of Mac's Speed Shop's three locations.

Review: Charlie Palmer's

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charliepalmer.jpgSo in case you did not know, it is Restaurant Week in DC again.  At $20.09 for lunch for $35.09 for dinner, diners can enjoy or sample select menus from participating establishments.  But even at the discount rate, $35.09 is a lot to spend, though you get a 3 course meal.

The Sports Freak, a co-worker of his, and I went to Charlie Palmer's near the Capitol earlier in the week.  None of us had dined there before, so it seemed like a good place to try.  We got there about 15 minutes early so after letting them know we were there, we settled at the bar for a pre-dinner drink.  Value is not what you expect there, as I ordered a vodka tonic that was more tonic than vodka and cost $10.

Dinner was better.  After we placed our orders, we were given an amuse-bouche of tiny shrimp ceviche.  Served in a metal "Asian soup spoon", there was the right balance of acid and seasonings.  The tiny shrimp came in twos and marinated in lime juice and cilantro.  Very good start.  For appetizer, I had the cold Virginia Corn Soup.  The cream based soup was light and refreshing.  While they put a little Maryland blue crab in the middle, I think the soup would have done just as well without it.  The others had heirloom tomato salads with goat cheese.  Two big slices of tomato and a mix wild greens, they reported it to be good.

On to the main entrees.  All three of us had the roasted beef sirloin.  The sirloin itself was very good.  Tender and flavorful, it was a good portion of meat.  I had ordered mine medium and it might have been a bit on the rare side, but still good.  The accompanying carmelized shallots were excellent, but how can carmelized onions not be good?  The potatoes, not so much.  Boulanger potatoes were sliced thin, but surprisingly tasted slightly raw, even though they seemed througly cooked.  It could have used a little more salt as well.  We also ordered a side of zuchinni and squash for the table.  That was great was shavings of parmesean cheese on top.

Dessert was possibly the big let down of the meal.  The Sports Freak and I both had the peach cobbler.  Baked and served in a ramakin with a dollop of frozen vanilla custard, it was very runny.  That might have been the downfall for the dessert as being baked in the small vessel instead a big batch made the crust finish quickly.  The peaches were still very firm, almost as if they were just warmed or quickly boiled and the liquid never had a chance to bake out of the dish.  The co-worker had ordered the Pennsylvania berry soup, which was a raspberry base served with panna cotta and sorbet.  He said it was very good, but he is partial to raspberries.

In all, it was a very good meal.  The restaurant decor is very bright and modern and you feel that it is very new, yet the service was established.  It is in the bottom of a fairly new building which opened earlier in the decade.  I would go back for Restaurant Week again, but would find it hard to go on the regular menu on my own dime.  The pricing was very high, but for a special meal or business, it would be on my list of places to go.

2Amys.jpgOn a recent weekend, I had dinner at three very different establishments.

First on Friday night, The Sports Freak and I went to 2 Amy's.  We wanted to see what the fuss was all about.  The lauded restaurant is off Wisconsin Ave, just north of the National Cathedral.  The lines were long and we had ot wait about half an hour.  During that time, we saw a few carryout orders, including a woman who had 8-12 boxes of pizza, so we thought we were in for a treat.

Unfortunately, things did not turn out so well.  We wanted to start with an appetizer of smoked salmon bruschetta or something like that.  I'm not sure exactly what was ordered because we never received it.  The pizzas came surprisingly quickly, so we decided not to question the missing plate until it showed up on our bill.

I had ordered the Abruzesse, which might have been a mistake.  No mozzarella, but pecorino cheese, the pizza seemed oversalted.  Not to the extreme, but a bit too much.  The meatballs seemed very dry.  The best part of the pizza was the crust.  Light and chewy, it is what I look for in pizza.  TSF had a traditional Neapolitan and reported he was not impressed.  He did not go into details, but said that he had had better Neapolitan elsewhere.

The best part of my meal might have been the pint of Wehenstephan Dunkel beer.  It was crisp and refreshing.  At least I got a little buzz before my disappointing dinner.  Maybe we got to 2 Amy's on an off night.

zburger.jpg
On to Saturday, I went to Z-Burger again with the Sports Freak. We hit the Tenleytown location at around 8:30 PM and it was virtually empty. We each ordered a burger and shared some fries and onion rings. Like all the "burger only" joints in the area, they only cook their burgers well-done. And because of that, it tastes much like the rest of them. If I was looking for a burger, I might not stop at Z-Burger unless I was in the neighborhood. Five Guys does just as good of a job, and I can find them in most neighborhoods now.

The fries also mimicked their competition, offering little difference. Where they win are onion rings. The rings appeared to be fresh made, not frozen. My only complaint on them would be that the onions were a bit too soft and so was the batter coating. I prefer my onions crisp. The coating might have been an issue because they were the last of the 3 items I tasted. Also on the menu, which we did not try were cheesesteaks and milkshakes. The Sports Freak is a freak about cheesesteaks and vowed he'd be back to try them. I thought about a milkshake but I didn't want a heart attack that night and just didn't want one at 9 PM.

IMG00034-20090328-2113.jpgWhen you think of subs you think of Domino's Pizza right?  For months, I've seen the commercials on TV, most notably during sporting events.  Then I needed the appropriate moment to actually try this.  We have also considered the Pizza Hut pasta and that was tested as well.  More on that later.

So The Sports Freak and I tried them.  And you know what?  Not bad.  We ordered the Philly Cheese Steak, Chicken Parm, and Chicken Bacon Ranch.  There was consideration for the Veggie, but why would you?  633 calories compared to the Philly Cheese Steak at 695.

The subs were delivered to us and they were still pretty warm.  We each tried half of each sub, but probably only got through one whole sub plus a bit each.  The Philly Cheese Steak was passable.  Not as good as the real deal from Philadelphia, but better than many of the area cheese steak makers.  Only possible lack in this was the amount of steak.  I was surprised it turned out so well.

Chicken Parm was as expected.  It can be screwed up, but it wasn't by Domino's.  The chicken and sauce were flavorful and in the right balance.  Not too much, not too little.  The cheese was fine

The trailer for the group was Chicken Bacon Ranch.  We ordered it without the ranch.  I prefer ranch in my salad, not on my sandwich.  It was kind of a throw-in because Domino's was offfering a 3 for deal.  We could have gotten pizza, but opted against that.  While it wasn't bad, I think the bacon could have been more crisp.  The chicken seemed to work less well than in the Chicken Parm.

All three subs delivered on the oven toasted bread.  Not overdone to become a rock, but enough to keep the ingredients in and not spill out.  For fast/delivery food, I generally rate it only "re-orderable" or never again.  These fall in the "re-orderable" category.

The Pizza Hut Pasta on the other hand, "never again".  Like the blockbuster movie, maybe it's the hype and it wasn't really that bad.  But if you are going to sell the pasta that can fool Italians, it better deliver in taste.  It didn't.  On a different day, the Sports Freak and I ordered the Lasagna and something else.  Honestly can't remember the other one.  Maybe it was the Chicken Alfredo?  In any case, Chef Boyardee might give them a run for their money.  What does Pizza Hut have going for them?  It comes hot.  OK, maybe I was harsh, but marketing it as it fools Italians, must mean they have no taste buds.  Pass on these if you ever feel the need and make a simple pasta yourself at home.  More satisfying and probably lower in sodium as I felt like I needed a gallon of water after that meal.

The Worst Meal Ever

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It's been awhile since I posted, but Culinary Couture, where Lemmonex, my blog-crush, writes, reminded me of possibly the worst meal ever.

I am an easy going guy.  My friends will tell you I have few places or people I openly criticize except maybe the way the Redskins are run.  But this early scene of spring we've gotten reminded me of the Georgetown Waterfront.  Unfortunately some pretty bad memories.

Cabana's may have served the worst meal I've ever had.  That's saying a bunch because my family was working poor.  Last summer, The Sports Freak and I headed over to Georgetown to see the scene.  On one night, we decided to dine at Cabana's for a change of pace.  We've walked by it in the past and thought the menu looked interesting, and this night decided to try it out.  Wow, what a mistake.

We were seated outside since it was summer.  That might have been our first clue since it was summer.  How could they have seats available at the peak of dinner service on a Friday night?  I started off with a Mojito.  It was completely watered down.  I actually wondered if they put any alcohol in it.

The entrees proved to be no saving grace.  I don't exactly recall what TSF had, but I think it was the Mexican Flag Enchiladas.  He was not happy about it and reported later that it just wasn't good.  I don't remember the details, but I remember he blasted it good.

I had ordered the Spanish Paella, "A Classic!", as they say on the menu.  The only thing classic about it might have been the age of the seafood.  Paella to me should be cooked in a pan and some of the rice should be crisp or almost burnt.  I know other places that serve it as part of tapas may not cook it to my liking, but they make up for it in quality.  Cabana's did not.  It felt like it was cooked in a pot over low heat quickly.  My family is from China so we don't turn down rice too often.  However this was a case where I had no problem doing so.  I decided to move on to just the proteins.

Not a good choice either.  The chicken was completely dry.  Forgivable if were the only mishap with the dish, but it didn't end there.  Chorizo, normally a flavorful sausage was tasteless and luke warm.  I think if they had thrown in thick slices of off the shelf pepperoni, they would have done better.  Finally the seafood.  I don't even know where to begin.  None of it seemed fresh.  I really mean that.  The mussels and scallops were extremely rubbery.  The calamari and shrimp were small, kind of like what you'd find at a grocery salad bar.  That is when it dawned on me.  Everything seemed to come out of a bag or a box.  Then they were all cooked separately, tossed into a pot for 2 minutes and doused with some chicken stock for what little flavor could be provided.

We decided to leave with both of us leaving at least half our dish.  This was very disappointing considering we had both been to Tony and Joe's in the past and Cabana's appears to be part of the same ownership.  Maybe that was their saving grace, that they could lose money since the sister restaurants were raking in the cash.  Ask me if I would go back to any restaurant and no matter how terrible it was, I would still push the good things about the place.  For Cabana's, a place I paid over $20 for a watered down drink and frozen seafood, is on the very short list of places I recommend not going to.

Review: il Mulino

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So with the economy in the crapper, I thought I'd take advantage of extended Restaurant Week, though in moderation, because you can only eat out so often.  Friday night, I met up with The Sports Freak and we headed over to il Mulino.

The restaurant, like many in the downtown area is set as the ground floor of an office building.  With modest exterior signage, we nearly passed by it.  Walking in, you could see the New York accents, as it reminded me of dining in the great Big Apple restaurants.  We were immediately seated, without menus and we found out that was intentional.  They wanted you to have a good experience before you ordered.  At the table, there was already marinated zucchini and some italian sausage slices.  The zucchini was a good starter.  I was unsure exactly what sausage was there.  It was reminiscent visually of pepperoni, but the taste was much stronger and smokier.  We were then served fresh bruschetta and a mussel.  The bread was nice and solid, and the accompanying tomato mix was excellent.  You could tell it was made that day, even maybe mere minutes before it was served.  The mussel was perfectly cooked.  All of this we were told, was complimentary and then we were provided the RW menu.

For appetizers, we both had the caprese salad.  While I think it was good, I've honestly had better.  For entrees, I had the Pappardelle with Sausage, and TSF had the Cannelloni.  The pappardelle was a good pasta dish with sausage shaped into small "meatballs".  I generally like pasta and sausage and this was good, but maybe a bit too meaty.  I think a little bit less sausage would have made this much better.  TSF is a freak about cannelloni.  In the years I've known him, he has sampled the cannelloni in any fine Italian restaurant we've been to.  He thought il Mulino's version was excellent.

For dessert, I had the Tiramisu.  TSF had the italian style cheesecake.  Unlike our experience just two days earlier, il Mulino has the dessert size right.  The tiramisu was excellent and TSF said his cheesecake was very good as well.  We thought we were done, but after they cleared our plates, we were served homemade grappa as a digestivo.  It was strong, but added an excellent finish to the meal.

If this is how il Mulino treats their customers on a regular basis, I'll be inclined to go back again.  They seem to know how to do Restaurant Week as all of these were found on their regular menu.

Review: Jackson 20

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Jackson 20, just blocks off the water in Old Town Alexandria serves modern American cuisine.  The Sports Freak and I decided to go there before the Maryland Duke Game last night.  We chose Jackson 20 because they were offering extended Restaurant Week thorugh the end of the month.

Located inside the Hotel Monaco, the restaurant was very loud, even though it was not yet packed.  The lighting was very dim to the point that the weather reports may have issued a visability warning in the establishment.  While I did not measure, I felt that the chairs were a bit higher than at most places.  Not like barstools, but higher than your normal dining chair.  It's these little things that restaurants need to pay attention to to keep and gain more customers.

The food fared better.  The RW menu here was advertised as off the regular menu.  Except they did not note that the two steak entrees would incur a $10 upcharge.  Our server did mention that to us.  The appetizers were hits and misses.  TSF had the scallops.  He noted they were good, but didn't elborate.  I had the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake.  That was very good, with little binder if any.  It was flaky and moist.  The seasonal slaw that was with it was less successful.  Some of the vegatables were soaking in the vinegar a little too long and created a pickling effect.  If that was the intent of it, I would say the chef needs to rethink that.

For our entrees, TSF had the sirlion and I ordered the buttermilk fried chicken.  The sirlion was huge.  Again, TSF reported it was good, but it was a little rarer than he prefers.  My chicken was excellent.  It was a skinless chicken breast breaded lightly and fried to be crispy outside, but moist inside.  It was served on a bed of kale with a side of whipped sweet potatoes.  I am not a sweet potatoe fan, but the whip was pretty good.  It was not too sweet, which is usually my fear of these dishes.  To give some "home comfort", it had a toasted marshmallow on top.  The kale was a bit bitter.  I'm not sure how to put it, but it did not seem to work out right.  I think it might have worked better in soup than as a side to the meal.  Our major disapointment with the entrees is that it took nearly half an hour after we finished our appetizers for the entrees to be served to us.  But they were still hot, so it was not that it was sitting out there waiting to be served to us.

Dessert was probably the biggest issue.  We both ordered the cranberry bread pudding with a scoop of ice cream.  The ice cream was smooth and creamy, but TSF has this thing about ice cream.  He says his close friends "know algebra and do not eat ice cream in the winter".  More on that story will be provided another day.  However, we made an exception because it's Restaurant Week.  Ice cream was not the problem.  The bread pudding was.  It was nicely put together and flavorful.  But "The ginormous bread pudding...a single bachelor sitting on the couch with a big plate full of bread pudding sitting atop his belly with a big glass of milk."  I put it in this perspective.  You get home after a long day at work and don't feel like cooking.  There are four portions of bread pudding left in your fridge and you decide to have them for dinner.  I should have gotten a picture of it, but take your standard size building brick and split it slightly uneven in two parts.  The bigger "half" is what we got..each.

While Jackson 20 has good meals, the regular pricing seems a bit high.  I won't go out of my way to go back there, but if I'm in the neighborhood, I would not have a problem stopping in for one plate.

Review: Cafe Atlantico

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Cafe AtanticoOn Saturday, The Sports Freak and I attended the Maryland North Carolina basketball game and was elated that our Terps won in overtime.  While we wanted to stay and watch the storming of the court, we had early reservations at Cafe Atlantico for Restaurant Week, so we had to leave College Park quickly to get to Penn Quarter.

Just making it in time, we parked and got in the restaurant.  Years ago, I worked around the corner from Jose Andres' restaurant, so I have sampled Cafe Atlantico's lunch menu before, but never dinner.  TSF had never been there.  Wow what a treat.

As part of Restaurant Week, they offered a $35.09 3 course dinner.  In a great effort to entice diners, they placed the RW menu next to the regular menu.  So many establishments miss this opportunity by printing the RW menu on a separate sheet of paper.  Benefit for Cafe Atlantico, as the "Bacon and Eggs" caught the attention of TSF.  I agreed to split it with him as RW offers a appetizer along with it.  The "Bacon and Eggs" were simply amazing.  I good portion of pork belly with Eggs 63 ("runny") on a bed of lentils were excellent.  As the plate was delivered to our table, the aroma reminded me of Chinese pork belly.  Perfectly cooked and seasoned, it was just a bit crisp on the outside and tender inside.  It was one of the best dishes of the evening, so much so, that TSF said he would order that "for himself" next time.

The RW menu held up as well.  I ordered the tuna ceviche.  It was good and tasted a bit creamy with the coconut milk that surrounded it.  I love avocado and the sliced half added to the dish.  My only complaint to this dish might be that the tuna was lacking in quantity, but the quality and taste were great.  TSF had the butternut squash soup and he reported it was fine, but he it wasn't his favorite dish.

The entree we both had was the Braised Beef Short Ribs.  The meat was tender and well cooked.  It was great, but there is almost an injustice to it as the accompanying butternut squash, spinach and mushrooms were so good, I kept going for those instead of the short ribs.  The "moat" of potato espuma the entree was served in was great as well.  Mashed potatoes are always a favorite, but the espuma may have topped the list.

We both ended the meal with the Warm Chocolate Cake.  I am not usually a fan of dessert, preferring fruit or berries, but this was very good.  The cake was as advertised, nice and warm, with the molten center.  On the side, banana espuma and sliced banana lime salad, all good.

The only thing that I did not fully enjoy was the mojito I ordered.  It was overpowering with the mint and light on the sugar.  The mint made it nearly bitter and while I do not like too much sugar, it felt that there was not enough in it.  Maybe that is just my taste, but it was not undrinkable, just not the way I enjoy mine.

Now the biggest problem going to Cafe Atlantico is being in the same building as Minibar.  So close to the famed tasting menu with the small dining area, essentially a "bar" with only six seats.  I want to go there, but my regular dining companions are not up for such an experience.  So if anyone wants to accompany me, please let me know.  I'd like to know I can use the reservation before trying to obtain it.  For Cafe Atlantico, on our way out, the maitre d' informed us that RW would be continuing at their establishment for this week as well, so I might go there again.

Two, two posts in one.  Actually three.  Last night, I had my third Crazy Blind Date.  The first I described a few weeks ago, the second was nothing to write home about.  Yesterday was something to write about.  Again, nothing crazy, but this is the first one that I think I might try a follow up date with.  I won't get into too many details to jinx it, so I'll review Teaism now.

My date was scheduled for at Teaism in Penn Quarter at 7 PM.  Already in the neighborhood at 6, I decided to visit my favorite bartender, Mo at the 701 Restaurant.  Always good to see Mo and I haven't been there in months.  Despite my long drought, he remembered me and who I usually come in with.  701 is one of those places one might hear about when a foreign leader or prominent member of our government holds a party or fundraiser.  But on a daily basis, it is a great place to meet up with friends for drinks, although a bit pricey.

As to Teaism, after my date left, I decided to try out the menu.  I had been there only once before and only to grab a cup of tea and run.  Teaism runs essentially a tea house, but also has an expansive, mostly Asian food menu.  It is fine dining in a casual atmosphere.  You order at the counter and pick up your own food and tea.  A nice thing is that you use actual plates and silverware when dining in.  I love Japanese food, in particular simple things like sushi and bento boxes.  When I saw bento boxes were on the menu, I had to try.  I opted for the handroll box.  I did not read into the details, but wanted to try something new, and this sounded interesting.

The handroll bento box has cured salmon, nori, pickled daikon, and rice.  I have to say, the cured salmon was excellent.  Thinly sliced in bite size portions, the fish was perfectly seasoned but left alone enough that you knew it was a quality piece of fish.  Rice is rice, but Teaism's version was good as part of a roll, or as a complimentary side dish to the entree.  Pickled daikon is not a favorite of mine, but it had the right mixture of sweetness and a hint of spice.  The nori was paper thin, so it did not hold up great as a wrap.  I ate a couple of wraps before deciding to eat the rest of the meal as individual parts.  The accompanying wasabi and miso mayo were nice condiments, but not particularly necessary to the meals.

As I said, the salmon was so good, I didn't even realize they provided a small cup of soy sauce with the bento box.  It was not needed and I only used it once to see if it improved the flavor, which it didn't.  The salmon was that good.  It was really a great meal at a great price. Without the tea, the bento boxes all run about $10 or less.  Tea is a personal preference, but at Teaism they have a large selection, so I found a good green to drink.

The shop/restaurant at Penn Quarter is small storefront adjacent to the Navy Memorial.  I sat on the ground floor and it only had seats for about 20.  There is a downstairs area, which I did not see.  Overall Teaism is a great little place to meet people.  If looking for a good low cost dining option, I would recommend this as well.  I definitely need to visit again soon.