Tag Archives: dupont circle

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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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Sushi at Gazuza

For a fourth choice, Gazuza Lounge wasn’t half bad. My friends and I had checked out three other sushi restaurants in Dupont Circle on a recent Friday night, and all were fully booked (note to self: always make a reservation), meaning we ended up at Gazuza somewhat by default.

We had barely sat down and begun looking at the menu (at the low table and chairs which were at toddler height — I felt like Gandalf visiting Frodo’s house), when our server came over, stating brusquely:

“I need to see your IDs and a credit card.”

IDs I get — even though all three of us are far, far removed from age 21 — but why the credit card? We were ordering food, not starting a tab.

When we hadn’t presented the plastic fast enough, she said it again, this time more firmly.

“Can we just look at the menus first?” we asked. Sheesh. This server had all the charm of the chairs we were sitting on.

After she left we decided a customer must have skipped out on her at some point, and that’s why she was demanding a credit card up front. Anyway, it was strange.

Here are our maki rolls:

The more you can’t have something, the more you want it, and by the time we hit Gazuza I really wanted sushi. Wasn’t so sure what to expect from this hookah bar/lounge, but fortunately, the sushi was actually pretty good. Nicely presented and fresh. It did the trick, even making up for the hobbit chairs and cold fish server.

Gazuza Lounge
1629 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-667-5500

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Empanada Taste Test: Julia’s vs. Panas

What’s the most important component of a good empanada? The dough? The filling? The dipping sauce? The price?

I sought out the answer at two shops in Dupont Circle, offering two vastly different styles of empanadas. Let’s compare the popular Julia’s Empanadas with the newer Panas Gourmet Empanadas.

Size

Julia’s: Large and submarine-shaped. At least six inches long. For most people, one empanada is probably enough as a meal.

Panas: Much smaller than Julia’s — about a quarter the size, somewhat resembling overgrown potstickers. It’d take several of these to fill up.

Style

Julia’s: Baked, not fried. A somewhat crisp crust, and it does have a lightness to it, like a thinner calzone crust.

Panas: I can’t say for certain, but I’m thinking fried. ** The crust is crispy and distinctly flaky, but not at all greasy.

Fillings

Julia’s: Some more traditional Chilean offerings, like ground beef or chorizo, plus others like a vegetarian option or Jamaican. I went with the salteñas, a filling of chicken, potato, green peas, hard boiled egg, raisins, green olives and onion.

Panas: Latin fusion inspired. A little harder to describe, so you’ll have to check out the menu on their website.  Ingredients are said to be all organic. I picked out two to try — smoked eggplant, and the CubaNovo of roast pork rillette with onions, cilantro and Grand Marnier.

Sauces

Julia’s: None offered.

Panas: Each empanada comes with a choice of dipping sauce. (Or, “dripping sauce” as it says on the menu — either that’s a typo or something didn’t translate.) I chose the ají, a spicy yellow chili pepper and mayo sauce, and chimi, a milder more traditional sauce that goes well with meat.

Price

Julia’s: $3.49 per empanada.

Panas: $2.25 per empanada (but keep in mind they’re much smaller than Julia’s). Combo plates are offered, such as three empanadas and a soda for $8.

Overall Impression

Each has its merits. I gravitate more toward the fried-style empanada at Panas, but I appreciate the size and heartiness of Julia’s. Value-wise they’re about equal. Julia’s are larger but served without a sauce, whereas Panas are smaller but come with a dipping sauce. I found the Panas empanadas to be a bit more flavorful, but it probably all depends on the filling. Those sauces were a nice touch though, especially the spicy ají.

A plus about Julia’s — they’re open Friday and Saturday until 4am, which I imagine immensely pleases the post-bar crowd.

Really it comes down to which style of empanada you prefer. Try them both.

** I was wrong, Panas’s empanadas are not fried. I think the first time I went their empanadas were so crispy compared to Julia’s that I mistakenly thought they were fried.

Julia’s Empanadas
1221 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-861-8828

Panas Gourmet Empanadas
2029 P St. NW
Washington, DC
202-223-2964