Category Archives: Dupont Circle

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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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The Little Serow Experience

Little Serow must be 100% about its food, because the look of this small Thai restaurant is… well, it doesn’t look like anything, really. A sparse basement space with 28 seats, seafoam green walls (as described by my friend Leah), no decorations that I can recall, and a small semi-open kitchen at the back.

From the outside, it’d be easy to miss Little Serow completely. There’s no sign.  Here’s Leah entering the restaurant. Or she could have been walking into her apartment; it’d be hard to know.

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What gives it away that something special is going on down in that English basement is the crowd of people queueing on the sidewalk. Little Serow takes no reservations, and with only 28 seats, securing a seating time is an exercise in strategy. Luckily we had a plan for our Friday night.  Leah bolted from work and got there before 5 pm, where a line of almost 20 had already formed. Jeez, what time do people get out of work??

By the time I rushed over there after 5:30, sweating and slightly frazzled, Leah had gotten us a seating time: 6:45 pm. Perfect!  (I’ve read that people often don’t get in until an 8:30 or 10 pm seating).

A few drinks next door to get us primed, and by 6:45, we were ready to eat.

** As you’re about to see, I took some really crappy pictures of our meal.  For one thing, the place is dark, and I never use flash in a restaurant. It feels super obnoxious. And two, I was under the impression that photos of any kind weren’t allowed in the restaurant.  So I was frantically whipping out my phone whenever possible and taking the quickest pics I could manage without being spotted. Turns out photos are allowed, just not flash photography. Whoops.

This is where the fun begins.  You don’t order off a menu at Little Serow; you eat what’s put in front of you. The flat $45 dinner consists of a tasting menu of seven dishes, which change weekly and are served one at a time. To fully enjoy the experience, a diner needs to have an open mind (picky eaters would fare poorly), and a tolerance for a fair amount of heat.

Here came the server with our first dish, an earthy mash of river weed and eggplant, to be scooped up with fried pork rinds.

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The second and third courses: on the left, a cold broth/soup studded with shrimp, lime leaves and galangal. On the right, bamboo shoots and snakehead fish.

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Snakehead fish need a better PR team — that is not an appealing name. They should take a cue from Patagonia toothfish, which were renamed to the more consumer friendly, Chilean sea bass.

We lingered on the cold broth throughout the night, which I think is the restaurant’s intention. It was served with unlimited baskets of sticky rice, that you balled up and dipped into the mild, herby liquid. More than a little addictive, and an antidote to the heat that was coming.

The beauty of dining at Little Serow is how it surprises and leads you in unexpected directions. Would I order a spicy dish of chicken livers and long peppers on my own? Probably not. But this turned out to be one of our favorites of the night. We ate it by picking up the liver with slices of cabbage, much like how injera is used at an Ethiopian restaurant.

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Heat… ooh, the heat was building now. My taste buds were popping from spice and chicken liver intensity.

I should take a moment to mention the servers. They were fantastic. Several were rotating around (all women donning a retro look of old-fashioned vintage dresses), and they took turns bringing over our courses. Each server was informative, relaxed and enthusiastic. You got the sense that they were as interested in the food as we were and truly wanted us to enjoy the experience.

Moving on to course number five, bite sized chunks of crispy pork with crispy rice. Vibrant, fresh flavors with a touch of sour.

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Bring the heat! Salted fish, egg and greens.

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These pork ribs in mekhong whiskey and dill were moan-inducing good. A crackling crisp, charred crust encasing meltingly tender pork. I couldn’t get enough of these little ribs. They were heavenly.

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Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite — oh, who am I kidding, dessert goes into a separate compartment — out came these lovely squares of mango and coconut sticky rice. Cue the sound of belt buckles being loosened.

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There’s a lot of hype surrounding Little Serow, and I’d say it’s deserved. Despite the elevated caliber of food, the place is refreshingly unpretentious and low-key.  Seats are at a premium, but never did we feel rushed. In fact, it was just the opposite. I think we were encouraged to savor and linger.  And the food — not so much flashy, as a bold combination of ingredients, textures and flavors.  How often do you experience a feeling of adventure in a restaurant? It’s exciting to venture into unfamiliar territory.

For all the exotic-ness of the dishes, there was a warm and comforting essence about each one. I could picture a grandmother in Thailand cooking all day and serving these up to her family.  These were dishes I had never tasted before, and yet they still felt “home-style.”

I’m eagerly anticipating another trip to Little Serow for a whole new menu of seven dishes. The Thai taste buds have been awakened, and there’s no turning back now.

Little Serow
1511 17th St. NW
Washington DC

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DGS Delicatessen: The Jewish Deli Gets a Makeover

DGS Delicatessen is not a Jewish deli in the way that one would imagine. Meg Ryan won’t be faking an orgasm here in “When Harry Met Sally 2.”  The place is too spiffed up and polished; it’s a Jewish deli gone upscale, with the accompanying pluses and minuses.

After shopping Sunday at the Dupont Circle farmers’ market, I met my friend Amanda and we rolled up to DGS at around 10:55 am.

Doors locked.

What? Not open??  Haven’t they been cranking out bagels for hungry breakfast customers all morning?  I peered through the window sadly.  A man who looked like the manager unlocked the door.

“You look confused,” he said.

Turns out DGS opens at 11 am, and we were five minutes early. The manager kindly let us in and told us, “We’ll give you the best table.”

We were led up to the second floor and a nice table at a window overlooking 18th St. This is a look at the dining room. (Remember, we were the first ones there. It filled up quickly.)

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The menu contained some of my favorite Jewish deli items, and it didn’t take long to make my decision.

I tore into this matzo ball soup and its light, fluffy matzo ball.

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The soup, flavored with diced carrots and fresh dill, was excellent; a touch on the salty side, but that’s somewhat expected since a matzo ball doesn’t impart much flavor on its own.

Potato latkes with apple preserves.

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Crispy with a hint of sweetness.  I usually like mine more onion-y, but I was happy with these.

The true test: the bagel.  The sesame bagel came toasted and I ordered it with smoked salmon cream cheese.

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It was a thin bagel that didn’t quite live up to NY standards. NY bagels tend to be fatter and chewier. Is it because they’re boiled?  Is it the NY tap water?

I had a bite of Amanda’s Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, and it was quite good. We agreed that we liked DGS and would come back.

So the pluses are refined Jewish deli favorites (in DC!), a pleasing decor and excellent restaurant service. (The servers were all very friendly and attentive.)  I liked the look of the dinner menu too and would be interested in trying that.

The minus? DGS is pricier than a Jewish deli. In the same way I object to Ping Pong Dim Sum inflating the cost of dim sum dishes which are normally far less expensive, I have a slight beef with paying $7 for matzo ball soup and $7 for two potato latkes. But this is Dupont Circle, with the accompanying city prices, and I get that this is not the hole-in-the-wall spot your Bubbie’s been patronizing for forty years.

Some friends and I are planning on visiting Parkway Deli in Silver Spring soon, so it’ll be interesting to compare experiences. It had been a while — a long while — since I’d eaten matzo ball soup. Tasting it reawakened my passion for Jewish deli food.  I want more.

DGS Delicatessen
1317 Connecticut Ave.
Washington, DC
202-293-4400

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Dinner and Michael Jackson at Bistro du Coin

In recent weeks I’ve bought a vintage Tour de France print, watched Midnight in Paris (starring a horribly miscast Owen Wilson — does he ever change his hairstyle for a role?), seen the French film The Artist (excellent) and also Hugo, the beautiful and soulful Scorsese flick set in 1920s Paris.

So yeah, France is on the brain. I may not be jetting off to Paris any time soon, but a quick Metro ride to Bistro du Coin for dinner?  That’s quite manageable for a Thursday evening.

What to eat at this popular French establishment in Dupont Circle? For my friend Alia, it was all about the moules frites. I needed more time to study the menu, I think to the chagrin of our server, a middle-aged man with a thick French accent and cool mustache. (Don’t know why I was surprised that our server would actually be French, but I was.)

Alia started with the cream of mushroom soup, which arrived in a giant bowl. It was so big she had to take half home. My appetizer was a small bowl of the moules Provencale, which you can barely make out here.

For a “small,” it was quite the generous helping, roughly 15-20 mussels? I’ve had better broth — it needed more wine and garlic — but the mussels themselves were grit-free and tender.

Alia’s mussels arrived with a serving of crispy, hot fries.

I ordered a small Bretonne, a gratin of buckwheat pasta, seafood and mushrooms in a lobster sauce.

One word: RICH. Boy am I glad I ordered the small. As much as I liked the dish, the large would have been too much. They would have had to turn me sideways to squeeze me through the doorway.

Alia and I had arrived early at 6, when the restaurant was only half full. French music twinkled in the background, and diner noise level was at a comfortable hum. At 8pm on the dot, the music changed over to… Michael Jackson.  Suddenly we were rocking out to “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” and we realized the restaurant and bar had completely filled up, with a line of hungry diners forming at the entrance.

So it all boils down to what kind of night you’re looking for. Do you want the serene, romantic French dinner? Come early. Do you prefer to dine to the tunes of the King of Pop in a packed house? Come after eight.

Bistro du Coin
1738 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-234-6969

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Bagels to Smile About at Bethesda Bagels

Back in December when I was in NY, I loaded up on bagels at Hand Rolled Bagels in Rye, savoring each one like it was the last I would eat for a long time. Who knew that less than a month later I’d happily be munching on a bagel in… Washington, DC?

That’s right, Dupont Circle, to be exact.

On Sunday the recently opened Bethesda Bagels was mobbed with older people, 20-somethings, women with yoga mats (a recurring theme I’ve observed in DC), and no doubt a good amount of farmers’ market crowd spillover.

Other customers placed complex orders for bagels, cream cheese, sandwiches, etc. Mine was basic, one onion bagel, one everything.

First, the bad (which is not even that bad). It being past noon, the bagels had gone a hair stale. Just a hair. Early in the morning would be the sweet spot for maximum freshness.

Much to my surprise though, an onion bagel that I couldn’t quibble over.

The right size — not steroidally doughy and puffed up — with a crust that gave way to a solid chew. Good salt and plenty of crispy onion bits flaking the top. I gobbled the thing while walking down Connecticut Ave., onion bits dropping off my face. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

The everything bagel was saved for later.

Split in half and toasted, it made for a delicious tuna sandwich.

This is the bagel I’ve been looking for around here. As great as in NYC? Who cares. A good bagel’s a good bagel. That’s all you can ask for. On my weekly Sunday trips to the Dupont farmers’ market, I’ve just added Bethesda Bagels to the list of stops.

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