Category Archives: Restaurants and Shops

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A Peek Into Minibar

Tonight Jose Andres opened up Minibar and Barmini to the masses. And by the masses, I mean those of us who find the concept of dropping $225 for a meal (excluding beverages, tax and gratuity) rather foreign.

It’s Minibar’s 10th anniversary. To celebrate, they held an open house; from 5-9pm, all were welcome to tour the space, sip on a complimentary drink and nosh on the restaurant’s twist on a Philly cheesesteak.

Here’s the line at 5:40pm, snaking up 9th St.

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To prevent people from blocking the exit of another building, the line was separated to clear an open space.

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A nice man came around with a tray of cocktails.

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I can’t remember the ingredients of any of these drinks, but whatever it was, it was refreshing.

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This is a marble. They were handed out to each person in line, to be used like a ticket to enter the restaurant. It was not food. I know that because I popped it into my mouth.

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In my defense, the woman distributing the marbles didn’t say what they were.

I honestly thought it was some culinary creation with a hard shell and soft center. My friends mocked my stupidity, but I can’t be the only idiot in line who mistook the marble for food. Can I?

And then, we made it to the entrance. We were ushered into Minibar’s cocktail lounge, Barmini.

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More cocktails were being served.

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This one, vaguely reminiscent of Limoncello, packed a punch.

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A few more steps, and we we were now in Minibar.

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Chefs were busily preparing the complimentary dish of the night, Minibar’s Philly cheesesteak.

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We all agreed, we could have eaten five of these. Or ten. A hollowed-out, submarine-shaped pita filled with a liquidy, fluffy white cheddar. Draped on top, thin slices of Kobe beef. It’s a classic Minibar course, and it’s brilliant.

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Continuing on the short tour to a small dining room with a single table.

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And finally, a gelatin cube dessert, which I think contained saffron. It was both sweet and savory.

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We each also received an envelope with a small gift, and the possibility of a golden ticket — a meal for two at Minibar.  I didn’t pull the golden ticket, but my gift was a complimentary sandwich from Jose Andres’s food truck, Pepe. Works for me!

For most of us, this was probably our first and only visit to Minibar.  It was fun to step inside and get a glimpse and taste of what goes on there.  Happy 10th anniversary!

Minibar
855 E St. NW
Washington, DC
202-393-0812

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Taylor Gourmet Sandwiches Elicit Moans of Rapture

Don Draper — or more likely Harry Crane — would have been thrilled to film my co-workers and me for a Taylor Gourmet commercial.  We were the perfect “Mad Men” TV campaign: a multi-racial group spontaneously erupting with sounds of ecstasy as we dug into our respective sandwiches.

One co-worker took a bite first. “Ohhhhh, my god!” she yelped.

I heard an “Mmmmmm” from another area of the office.

Then I bit into my sandwich and let out my own, “OHHHHH!”

I had the Pattison Avenue: thinly sliced roasted pork, broccoli rabe and sharp provolone on a warm roll. This is how it looked before it completely disappeared in my stomach.

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I finished it, sighed deeply, and lit up a cigarette. Okay, I didn’t really do that. But I wanted to. That’s a helluva sandwich.

Taylor Gourmet
624 E St. NW
Washington, DC
202-652-0145

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Disappointment With Thai X-ing’s Vegetarian Night

It’s probably unfair to compare Thai X-ing to Little Serow. They’re putting out dishes with little passing resemblance – two very different styles of Thai cuisine. But when you dine at the two restaurants in consecutive weeks, comparisons are tough to avoid, especially considering how much I was wowed by Little Serow.

I dashed into Thai X-ing on a recent Sunday night, running about ten minutes late to meet my friends for dinner (thanks weekend Metro!).

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It was like popping into someone’s house. Thai X-ing does not resemble a restaurant – and that’s a compliment. You’re basically sitting in a cozy living room filled with houseplants.

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I whipped out a bottle of wine from my shoulder bag (alcohol is BYOB) and set it on the table. Then it was time to catch up with the group, who had already started on the soup course.

The soup was bright, spicy and sour.

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Sunday nights are vegetarian nights at Thai X-ing, with a chef’s menu of $40/person for groups of five or more. I’ll admit, I was a little bummed we went on a vegetarian night. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of vegetables. But knowing that this is one of the more highly touted Thai restaurants in DC (where it can be tough to get a table), I wanted the full picture of what they could do — meat and all.

This was mixed vegetables and fried tofu.

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A side dish of rice and white beans.

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Pad see ew.

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I think there were one or two more dishes that I didn’t get a chance to photograph – maybe something with green beans?

It was all quite good, but very safe. Where was the boldness? Where was the daring? For a vegetarian night I’d been anticipating creativity and imagination. These were essentially familiar flavors and basic vegetables, the sort you’d find at most Thai restaurants.

The one dish that truly stood out was the curry pumpkin.

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“It’s so creamy!” I said. The smooth, fleshy pumpkin scooped out effortlessly from the rind and mixed dreamily with the curry sauce. Awesome. That was a sensual dish.

But then dinner wrapped up and I realized no more entrees were being sent out. My heart sank. For eight people, we didn’t have enough food.

This delicious dessert of fantastically ripe mango and sweet sticky rice helped some. When I buy mangoes, they never taste quite like that.

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I was still hungry, though.

No complaints about dinner — I think I had just been expecting more. Little Serow was such a memorable experience that any Thai restaurant afterwards was bound to disappoint. My recommendation for Thai X-ing is to go on a day when the menu includes meat, or choose a vegetable and fish day; I have a feeling there will be better variety and much more interesting dishes. And if you’re going with a group of eight, ask for an extra dish or two!

Thai X-ing
515 Florida Ave. NW
Washington, DC

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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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Is Absolute Noodle Worth a Visit? Absolutely.

What’s the hotter trend in D.C. right now, ramen or “fried chicken and donuts”? And when will some daring restaurateur open an eatery that combines all three?

In Penn Quarter, Daikaya has been generating buzz for its ramen bar and izakaya. One street over on 5th St., the less flashy Absolute Noodle seems to be flying more under the radar.

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Absolute doesn’t serve strictly ramen; as its name suggests, the emphasis is on Asian noodles and noodle soups. You can select egg noodles, fettuccine, glass, ramen, rice, soba, or udon, pair them your choice of three broths, and mix and match with various meat toppings and veggies.

Then there are the restaurant’s special signature noodle dishes, which run for $10. I liked the look of the bulgogi udon and duck soba, but ultimately was drawn to the baby back ribs noodle.

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In the bowl were wavy egg noodles, veggies, a dark Thai-inspired sauce, and two “intentionally braised” baby back ribs. What that means I don’t know. Are ribs usually braised accidentally? Sir, we braised these ribs, but we didn’t mean to! We’re so sorry!

Anyway, these were intentionally braised. The tender meat pulled away easily from the bone and incorporated into the chewy noodles. This particular dish is served without broth, so I ordered a bowl of broth on the side.

The whole thing tasted great and was a nice amount of food for $10. My co-workers liked their various noodle soups too, and even had leftovers to take home.

So hooray for this ramen/noodle trend. Keep it coming.

Absolute Noodle
772 5th St. NW
Washington, DC
202-789-0022