Tag Archives: penn quarter

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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

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Ella’s Meatball and Leek Pizza

As I’ve said before, a city can never have too many pizza restaurants. Bring it on — the more pizza, the better.  The Penn Quarter/Chinatown area has some good options, from Matchbox to District of Pi.  It’s not mind-blowing, pizza-of-the-gods stuff, but you’ll leave satisfied.

Which is how I felt about Ella’s.  The pizza there holds its own, with crispy thinnish crust, interesting toppings, bright sauce and the right amount of cheese.

Here’s one with artichokes.

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And another with meatballs and leeks. Never thought to put leeks on a pizza, but it really works. Kind of a great pairing, actually.

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Ella’s is perfect to hit up before a game at the Verizon Center, before a movie/show, or simply for a weeknight happy hour.  Other people seem to know that too, because it looks like the place can get somewhat crowded.  I guess everyone loves pizza.

Ella’s Wood Fired Pizza
901 F St. NW
Washington, DC
202-638-3434

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Poste’s Addictive Truffle Frites

This may be the first time I’ve felt compelled to blog about fries.  Could be because I don’t eat as many as the next guy, or it could be that I’ve never tasted any where I thought, “The world must know about these fries!”

I’ll get to the fries in a sec, but first a few pics of Poste and other parts of the meal. I’ve actually been there twice in the past week and a half – once for dinner and once for drinks.

An elegant entryway makes you feel as though you’re going someplace with class.

The roomy courtyard is an ideal spot for drinks. A couple of friends and I lounged there this past Saturday night and it couldn’t have been more pleasant — not at all the mob scene I half expected. People out of town for the weekend?

Back to the dinner I’d had a few days before. Didn’t get a chance to shoot a pic of the dining room, but trust me, it’s nice inside.

I had the suckling pig over polenta and ramps.

Good entrée (especially the ramps), but as often happens in nice restaurants where presentation trumps quantity, not enough food. Really could have used a larger portion. When you’re charging moderately high prices, all I ask if that you provide enough to eat that I don’t have to dive back into the bread basket to fill up.

The dessert of chocolate pave and ice cream was excellent. So smooth.

And then a few complimentary cookies to send us on our way.

So as you can see, it was a solid meal. But what I’ll continue to remember most about Poste are the truffle frites. And it’s all my friend Tanya’s fault, because she’s the one who wrote this when three of us we were planning the dinner:

“There is no time like the present to get Doug addicted to their fries.”

See, I was entrapped. I feel like Anthony Weiner when he discovered Twitter. There was no turning back.

The truffle frites are a magical concoction of thinly cut potatoes, and what tasted like truffle oil, garlic and parsley or chives. Truffle oil has a certain earthy, indefinable quality to it, but you know it’s there.

My friend Charmaine and I shared this order, though I’m rather positive either of us could have polished it off on our own.

My takeaway on Poste is this: nice restaurant, great courtyard, good food (though portions could be larger), and awesome truffle frites. If anything, just have drinks in the courtyard and order the frites.

Poste
555 8th St. NW
Washington, DC
202-783-6060

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Merzi: “The Indian Chipotle”

The Chipotle chain is such a recognizable entity that when a restaurant is referred to as “The Indian Chipotle,” I think most everyone understands what that means.

The restaurant is Merzi in Penn Quarter, and the comparisons with Chipotle are accurate. Both present a mainstream interpretation of authentic cuisines — Mexican at Chipotle, Indian at Merzi. Both feature a food counter offering a few base dishes and the option of additional toppings and condiments. Both can be considered “fast food” — you’re in and out of the line in a matter of minutes. And both are decently priced, though Chipotle is more so.

Here’s what I got: a samosa, and a rice bowl with tandisserie chicken (tandoori meets rotisserie), chickpeas, corn and a generous ladling of “hot” sauce.

My co-worker ordered a dish with “medium” sauce, and judging by her cries of discomfort, it just about burned a hole in her tongue.  If the medium sauce was that atomic, what was in store with the hot? I was frightened.  The last thing you want to do at work is spend the bulk of the afternoon in the bathroom.

In the end, no problems. The sauce was hot, but pleasantly so.  Just right. Or, at least it was to my Chinese-American palate that’s been raised on spicy food.

For real-deal Indian cuisine, this probably isn’t it. But for quick food that’s got fairly good Indian flavors, Merzi fits the bill.  And if you prefer, you can taste test those sauces before ordering. No need to give yourself a bleeding ulcer.

Merzi
415 7th St.
Washington, DC
202-65-MERZI

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The Good and Bad of Hill Country

Pardon the language, but if you look up the word “clusterfuck” in the Urban Dictionary, a picture of Hill Country should appear beside it.

If that sounds overly harsh, it’s only due to frustration, because Hill Country has so much going for it.  It’s like a really gifted kid who gets in trouble at school: the potential’s all there, if only the kid wouldn’t muck it up. And Hill Country’s mucking up their potential.  Their issues can’t be blamed on the growing pains of a newly opened restaurant, either; I ate at the original NYC Hill Country a few years ago, and came away with the exact same feelings then that I do now.

Before you think this is a complete rip-fest, though, let’s start with the good news: the food. The BBQ is great. A group of us from work ventured over to the Texas-style restaurant last Friday, and I was excited, since I hadn’t had good BBQ since eating at Dinosaur in Syracuse last fall. This plate put a big smile on my face.

A slice of “lean” brisket, and a slice of “moist.” The moist was cut thicker than the lean and exhibited more marbling in the meat. Both were fine examples of brisket: tender and smoky.

My two pork ribs were also worthy of praise. Some people prefer the meat to fall off the bone; I prefer it this way — firmer and requiring a tug of the teeth to tear the meat away. The ribs also had a beautiful pink smoke ring and were “dry” — not slathered in barbecue sauce. With a squeeze bottle of sauce on the table, my method was to squirt it on the butcher paper and dip the ribs.

For sides, I chose collard greens and German potato salad, both of which were flavored by bacon. And that’s really all you’ve gotta say… bacon makes everything taste good.

So clearly, the problem with Hill Country isn’t the food — in fact, I’d eat there all the time if we were judging solely on the quality of the BBQ.

It’s the damn ordering/paying process and overall cost which drags the whole experience down.

At Hill Country, you don’t sit at the table and order like at a regular restaurant. A menu card is handed out, and with that card, you have “access” to the market-style food stations. (I think they actually rope off the food area, so flashing the menu card is like getting by a bouncer and into a club.)

So now you have the food stations to visit: meats, sides, drinks and dessert. Some meats are priced by weight, and if you order brisket for example, you can order as few or as many slices as you’d like. The menu card is handed to the servers, they mark it up and slap price stickers on it, and away you go.

The problem is that when the restaurant’s busy — and I imagine it’s always busy — the lines get super long and it becomes this arduously slow process to assemble your meal. One person from our group stayed back to hold our table, and we disappeared for so long she probably thought we’d gone to see a matinee of Source Code.


Why not just have customers order at the table? Are they just trying to save money on waitstaff? Is this how they do it in Texas? What’s the point? I disliked the system in NYC — you can only imagine the crowds there — and I dislike it in D.C.

Then there are the prices. My plate of two slices of brisket, two ribs and two sides cost a whopping $23.  The sides themselves were $4 a pop. That’s pretty steep, and very hard to justify for lunch. Definitely the most expensive BBQ I’ve eaten.

Finally, there was the small issue of paying the bill. Again, nothing’s done at the table, you’ve got to queue up in the cashier line. With the line backed up more than twenty deep, the hostess instructed us to pay at the bar. Apparently, no one told the surly bartender, who ignored us for ten minutes and wouldn’t even make eye contact.

So we were standing there holding our bills with nowhere to go. It was almost like they didn’t want us to pay. Meanwhile, more customers were streaming in, we were in everyone’s way, and when you glanced around the restaurant, there were lines everywhere. The bartender then got into some disagreement with another employee about the meaning of “PB&J” on the menu, and they went back and forth for a few minutes, while I took mental notes for this blog post.

I don’t know how we eventually got the bartender to attend to us, but we did end up paying our bills, and bolted out of the chaos.

Now it all came back to me why I hadn’t been to back to the NYC location… for me, the minuses outweighed the pluses. Is the very delicious food worth the aggravation and price? I’m not sure. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Hill Country
410 7th St.
Washington, D.C.
202-556-2050