Category Archives: Restaurants and Shops

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Chinese Dumplings Invade Glover Park

It doesn’t appear that the word’s gotten out yet, but there’s a bona fide Chinese dumplings spot in town. The name of the restaurant, Dumplings and Beyond, is undeniably goofy — it conjures up images of bed sheets and 20% off coupons.

Don’t snicker at those dumplings though, ’cause they’re legit.

It seems that the chef/owner? of the highly esteemed China Bistro in Rockville has expanded her reach with this new venture in Glover Park. The handmade dumplings (jiaozi) are prepared with the same technique. (You can watch them being made on the way to the restroom.) The result is heavenly.

First, choose your filling. The ones pictured below were the house special of pork, shrimp, cabbage and chives.

Then take your pick of steamed or pan-fried. Why not both?

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Dumplings come ten to an order.  That sounds like a lot, until you realize these aren’t the jiaozi you’re accustomed to eating in most Chinese restaurants. You know the type: gut-bombs with thick, gummy skin and leaden fillings. Two or three of those and you’re done.

The Dumplings and Beyond version is characterized by a delicate skin with chew. No easy feat — too delicate, and the filling would fall right out the bottom. It helps that the filling is packed with a gentle touch.

The result is a balanced dumpling that’s flavorful, juicy and light. You get rolling on these things and you’ll want to eat more and more. On this visit, three of us put down 40 dumplings with ease. I think we could have kept going.

I’d like to get the word out about Dumplings and Beyond, but not TOO much. Part of me wants to keep the place to myself so that I can stroll in there any time I’m around Glover Park. Sometimes a guy needs a dumpling fix.

Dumplings and Beyond
2400 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-338-3815

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Pho 14 Makes a Wallet (and Stomach) Happy

At Pho 14 the other night, someone at our table told us about the insanely low food prices in Vietnam, where a bowl of pho cost $1.50 American dollars. A more expensive bowl of pho? $2.

Clearly, the phrase “cheap eat” is relative. There’s cheap, and then there’s CHEAP.

As restaurants in D.C. go, Pho 14 has to be included on our city’s list of cheap eats.  It’s not often that you examine your bill and are surprised — because it’s so low.

A big bowl of pho will run you $9.49. For bun, the vermicelli bowls, between $8.49 – $11.99.

For a banh mi, one of my top three favorite sandwiches in the entire world? $4.49.

A banh mi platter goes for $9.99 and comes with your choice of appetizer (I went with the spring rolls — not pictured) and a cup of pho broth (golden and rich with flavor).

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This banh mi contained grilled pork and provided all the usual pleasures of the sandwich, crunch and tang.

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Lucky for all of us, Pho 14 has three locations: Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan and Van Ness.

Let’s be thankful for cheap eats, and for cheap eats that taste this good.

Pho 14
4201 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-686-6275

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Ching Ching Cha: Georgetown’s Tea Oasis

I don’t think Ching Ching Cha has a suggestion box, but if they did, my recommendation would be to improve the lighting.

That’s it, that’s my suggestion. Aside from that, the Georgetown tea house is charming and quite unique. It feels like a peaceful oasis far removed the hustle and bustle of the city.

The place is a tea lover’s dream, with an abundance of exotic teas, teapots and accessories.

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There’s food too. It’s a smallish menu, focused mostly on light snacks and small bites. But I was very happy with my Tea Meal, which included a surprisingly excellent tomato egg drop soup, and generous pieces of miso salmon served along with crispy, fresh vegetable sides. It all felt very healthy and clean, just the sort of thing you’d want to nosh on at a tea house.

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“You know what this place needs?” I said to my friend Libby on our evening visit. “Better lighting.”

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There’s a coldness about the white light emanating from the overheads. A few low-hanging paper lanterns here and there, setting the place aglow with warm, inviting light, and the place would be transformed into something magical.

Anyway, that’s my two cents. I like Ching Ching Cha a lot. Hope they stay around for a while.

Ching Ching Cha
1063 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-333-8288

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DC Battle of the Bagels: Rating Three Area Bagel Shops

What’s it like to have baked onion bits on your face, stuck to your fingers, down your shirt and all over your kitchen counter?  If you’re an onion bagel fan like myself, it’s glorious. And, well, that’s the price to pay for conducting a thorough bagel taste test.

In an attempt to find a few of DC’s best bagels, I traveled far and wide (okay, not that far or wide) to four stops. Unfortunately, Palena Cafe was sold out of bagels on this particular morning, so that left three: Bethesda Bagels, So’s Your Mom, and Pumpernickels.

To make a fair comparison, I ordered onion bagels across the board. Here are my thoughts, and a rating — a “five bagel” rating being the best.

Bethesda Bagels
1718 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-299-9399

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One of the best in the area, but also the toughest stop on the tour, only because it has by far the longest wait.  Expect long lines; the place gets extremely crowded, so you need to know that going in.  And this being Dupont Circle, you’ll see plenty of ladies in yoga pants. Not that I’m complaining.

Bagels are $1.10 apiece. There’s a wide selection of flavors to select from, including “sport-energy,” whatever that means.

Size-wise they’re the biggest of the three I tried, with the familiar puffed-up shape resembling an inner tube. The crust has a nice sheen with a decent crunch, and a generous sprinkling of onion bits dot both sides.

Good chewiness and bite. Toasts up nicely. Of the bagels I’ve tried in DC, I’d say Bethesda Bagels gets the closest to the New York standard.

Rating: 4 out of 5 bagels

 

So’s Your Mom
1831 Columbia Rd. NW
Washington, DC
202-462-3666

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Adams Morgan’s bagel and sandwich shop is family-run with fast, efficient and friendly service. Compared to the 15 minute wait at Bethesda Bagels, I was in and out of So’s Your Mom in about three minutes. That’s hard to beat.

Bagels run $.95 apiece. They’re fat like Bethesda’s, but slightly smaller. Again, a substantial heaping of tasty onion bits cling to both sides.

The crust isn’t quite as crispy as Bethesda’s, and there’s a little less overall chewiness, but still a very solid bagel.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 bagels

 

Pumpernickels Bagelry & Delicatessen
5504 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-244-9505

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An employee at my neighborhood running store made a strong statement: “Pumpernickels makes by FAR the best bagels in DC.”

Whoa now, that got my attention. She said it with such conviction that either she was right, or her family owned the place.

$.95 per bagel here. As you can see, it’s smaller, flatter and denser than the first two. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I prefer a fuller shape. Not much crust to speak of, and the inside’s not especially chewy. This was the saltiest bagel of the three, and here’s the rub: onions on one side only. The bottom was onion-free.

The Pumpernickels bagel also fared the worst after toasting. It just didn’t have the volume or crunch/chew of the other two.

Rating: 3 out of 5 bagels

The overall winner of this round of taste tasting: Bethesda Bagels.

What to do with your extra bagels? Throw them in a Ziploc gallon bag, press the air out and toss the bag in the freezer. When you want to eat one, microwave it for about 20 seconds and it’s ready to be toasted or thrown in the oven.

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Did I Order Le Diplomate’s Worst Dish?

If Le Diplomate were a movie on Rotten Tomatoes, it would boast an almost 100% fresh rating.  Its staff would be putting the final touches on their Vera Wang gowns and prepping acceptance speeches for next week’s Oscars. That’s how much DC folks love Le Diplomate.

Which is why I’m feeling disappointed about my recent meal there.  It’s like I missed out on something.

Let’s start with the positives.  Le Diplomate draws raves about its bread, for good reason. My friend Amanda and I tore through this basket; we were all over the cranberry bread, especially.

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No complaints about the ricotta ravioli either.

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I’m usually quite good at selecting one of the more interesting entrees on a menu.  But  I may have brain cramped this time, because with duck confit, braised lamb and grilled loup de mer among the options, I went with the steak frites, probably the most mundane dish among the bunch.

What happened? Well, I hadn’t eaten a steak in years, and it sounded so appealing to me at this particular moment. I also figured if any place was going to prepare a steak to remember, it’d be Le Diplomate.

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It was good; it just wasn’t GOOD.  Surprisingly, the steak was overcooked; my medium-well request had become well done.  The meat was tough in places, especially near the ends.

I’d been hoping for more. With all the hype surrounding Le Diplomate, I expected a hangar steak so divine that the memory of it would burn into my brain.

Amanda and I shared a dark chocolate Napoleon for dessert.

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Not the type of Napoleon I thought it would be. I prefer layers of thin puff pastry over this harder, thicker almond layer on the bottom.

All in all, kind of underwhelming. It’s possible Le Diplomate was having an off night. This was the eve of a huge snowstorm, so maybe the chefs were rushing and just hoping to get home.

My prevailing thought is that I ordered one of the weaker dishes.  Friends and colleagues wax poetic about the duck, lamb and branzino; I’m kicking myself for not going that route.

So either I screwed up, or the place is like Jared Leto’s performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” — critically acclaimed, with me scratching my head trying to understand what the fuss is about.

Le Diplomate
1601 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
202-332-3333