Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Restaurant Week!!! Cafe Atlantico

Pork Cheeks with black beans, white rice, farofa, oranges
That little orange drop on the bottom left? The sauce of doom.

I'd never been to Cafe Atlantico before, and frankly I'd never heard of it either. Turns out it's an Latin-inspired fusion place led by Chef Katsuya Fukushima right in Chinatown. We sat outside and even had live music from an outdoor concert that was playing a block away. Thus far it has been the best place I've been to for Summer RW 2010. One restaurant remains in the running, and we'll see if it beats Cafe Atlantico out on Sunday.
Dominican Conch Fritters with jicama-avocado raviolis, passion-fruit oil

The Food
First Course: Dominican Conch Fritters with jicama-avocado raviolis, passion-fruit oil
I inhaled these buggers. They were large enough that I had to take two bites to eat one, but it was delicious. The avocado raviolis tasted a little like deconstructed guacamole (they were cold). I loved the idea and the execution was great. When you ate a bite of that together with a bite of the fritters it was delish. The inside of the fritters were unexpectedly slimy, which could totally throw someone me. Luckily I liked it, but the texture takes some getting used to. My one issue was that I couldn't taste the conch, just the fritter batter (which was like cornbread. No complaints on that).

Second Course: Pork Cheeks
These were delicious! The meat came apart nicely, like a well-cooked pot roast. The black beans they were served on top of were fantastic, but I got surprised by a taste of super-spicy sauce they had drizzled on the side. SUPER. SPICY. I nearly finished my whole glass of wine then and there, hah.

Third Course: Warm Chocolate Cake with lime ice cream and banana mousse
Cake was fine, mousse was banana-y (I hate bananas) and the lime ice cream was awesome and creamy. I have to say though, what's with every restaurant serving options of either a thick chocolate cake/tart or mango ice cream? It's overdone and boring.

“Beetsteak” Tomato Salad with seasonal beets, yogurt, fresh herbs, sherry vinaigrette

My friends' dishes
“Beetsteak” Tomato Salad with seasonal beets, yogurt, fresh herbs, sherry vinaigrette
 Nothing unexpected. The dressing was a little salty, but in a good way.

Salmon with peaches, lime, passion fruit, chicken jus
Nothing interesting. I have to say, salmon is probably the worst investment you can make at a restaurant. Unless you can't take a slab of salmon and fried it in a pan, or are health-conscious and there are no other options on the menu, it's not worth the purchase. It always tastes exactly the same and you could easily make the exact same quality fish at home.

Flat Iron Steak with summer corn, peach
Delicious, and it came with the absolutely most delicioso mashed potatoes.

Flat Iron Steak with summer corn, peach
The Service
Our Server checked in often, water was always refilled quickly, and management came by to to talk to every table. Excellent.

The food was all fantastic. I tried the conch fritters and the pork cheeks to try something new and unusual, and I was disappointed that the flavors weren't new or unusual. The conch may have been but I couldn't taste it. Regardless, it was still completely worth going and a place I highly recommend anytime of year.

Warm Chocolate Cake
Venezuelan chocolate flan, banana mousse
lime ice cream

Rating: 9/10
It lost a point because they served a totally unique protein (conch) and then covered up all the flavor and texture by coating it in batter and deep frying it. I could have eaten fried cornbread and it probably would have tasted the same. But like I said before, I highly recommend this over any other restaurant I've been to this week.

Cafe Atlantico
405 8th Street NW
Washington DC 20004
(202) 393-0812

Review: Restaurant Week!!! I Ricchi

I went to I Ricchi two and a half years ago during the January 2008 RW. It left a very favorable impression last time, particularly because they were willing to give me two vegetarian appetizers instead of requiring me to pick one appetizer and one entree (with no veggie entree options). On top of that, all the food was fantastic. I was pleased to see that this year the entree menu included a vegetarian option, so when a friend came from out of town, I decided to give the place a try again. Mistake.

The Food
Overall, the few dishes left over from RW two and a half years ago were still amazing. Everything else fell disappointingly flat. I checked to see if ownership had changed, or if a new chef was listed as creating the menu, but not a whisper. It's clearly the quality of the recipes rather than the quality of the food, because the originals still tasted amazing. Whoever created the new recipes just missed the essence of Italian food (and fine dining) completely.

My Meal
Panzanella salad
I ordered panzanella salad because I've made it at home but never had the opportunity to try it in a restaurant. Apparently it's about 50% boring croutons with virtually flavorless greens and a bland balsamic dressing. Not what I was expecting.
Pasta with mushrooms, peas and cream sauce
The pasta was passable.
Chocolate tart with pear
The chocolate tart was a relic from years past and as thick and delicious as I remembered it.

Friend's Meal
Risotto with summer vegetables
The risotto is also a relic from the past (and delicious) but in a twist of obvious laziness, the vegetables were not in fact summer vegetables. They were peas and carrots and all the same vegetables that they used in their winter risotto. I have to wonder if they have them frozen in the back...
Round Steak with mashed potatoes and mushroom sauce
The round steak came rare (see below for more on that debacle) and strangely unflavored. My friend is picky about her food, so when she initially complained I thought maybe she just didn't like it because she didn't like that particular cut of meat. But no, I tried it and there was definitely something wrong with it. The meat literally tasted like someone had cooked it, completely unseasoned, in a brand new pan/skillet/oven. There was also a strange after taste to it like maybe it had once been soaked in a sauce but all that was left was some unpleasant residual hint.
Chocolate tart with pear

The Service
There were several complaints about the service. The first was our server, who was extremely awkward. She'd start to talk and then stop suddenly, like she was planning on adding something. We'd look at her, waiting for her to say more and instead she'd walk abruptly away. Looking at the other servers, this was clearly only one person who was inexperienced. I would have been fine with that but the head chef and the restaurant manager decided to implement other policies that contributed to an overall negative experience.

Substitutions. Now most restaurants do not allow substitutions during RW, and that's understandable. With the high volume of customers, you just don't have the time. However, my friend does not like mushrooms and mushrooms were on nearly every single entree. So we asked if they could just skip the mushroom sauce on the steak - we didn't ask them to substitute it for anything. When you get to that step on the plate, you just don't put it on. The answer was no. So we thought, alright, she can push it aside. Then my friend asked for the meat to be cooked medium instead of medium rare. Apparently, that was not an option either. Now I'll put up with sauces (you just put them aside), but if you're going to serve red meat (or seared fish, or anything else that could be raw for that matter), you let people choose. If you think you're going to be so stressed you can't deal with it, don't put it on the menu. Not only that, but the meat actually came out extremely rare. My friend was forced to eat around the edges where it was cooked and probably left a good 60% of the steak on her plate.

Then they charged for soda refills. $2.95 for a tiny glass of soda. In Europe that's ok and expected - in America it's not. If you're going to do that, then you let people know. Even fancy restaurants warn their customers before doing it.

My favorite strangeness of the evening though, happened befor the meal. They bring bread to the table at the beginning of the night and pour the olive oil and vinegar for you - only to leave and take the bottle of oil and vinegar with them! So we got a whole basket of bread and two tiny spots of olive oil and vinegar. Total waste of bread.

Overall, this was a huge disappointment compated to my last visit here. Either a new chef is creating some recipes that are sub-par, or the owner/chef Christianne Ricci has lost her touch. The originals were still delicious but the new stuff fell flat. The strange service and unwillingness to be flexible, even when the restaurant was only 1/3 full, completely destroyed any chance of me going back. I do not recommend I Ricchi.

Rating: 3/10
One point for the tart, one point for the risotto, and one point for nostalgia of times past.

I Ricchi
1220 19th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036
P: (202) 835-0459
F: (202) 872-1220

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: Restaurant Week!!! Sushi Taro

UPDATE: wrote a review on Sushi Taro as well, and they get more gourmand-y in their descriptions than I do. If you want some pictures and a description of dinner, here's the link:

It is that bi-annual time of year again: Restaurant Week! For one whole week participating restaurants in DC offer three-course prix fixe menus for $20 at lunch and $35 at dinner. My favorite event in DC. EVER.

This is my third year so there's the "tried and true" restaurants I've added into the mix of new places I'm trying out. Sushi Taro is one I haven't been before, and that's because they're always booked. Sushi Taro has a reputation for being a high-quality, highly-traditional sushi place. If you want to do a tasting at the bar, it's a $120.00 minimum order with reservations required. So you can imagine how people jump at the chance to try the basics for only $20 or $35. Luckily the horrific hot weather actually worked in my benefit this time, cutting down the number of diners willing to go outside in the middle of the day. I snagged a spot for lunch yesterday for myself and two of my girlfriends.

The food
Two of us ordered the restaurant week menu and the other ordered a fried chicken bento box.

The bento box: sashimi, tempura, and fried chicken; side of rice and miso soup. The sashimi was high quality, and the rice, soup, and tempura were normal. I loved the chicken. I loved it. If I wasn't stuffed, I would have eaten the whole thing. There's a caveat - it's dark meat. A lot of Americans hate the dark meat on the chicken and my friend is one such American (which means I got to try a piece she didn't want). However, if you like dark meat, that is one quality piece of chicken. Yum yum.

The restaurant week menu
First course: Three Box Tasting
1st Box: Sashimi
High quality fish but it didn't come with rice, which is highly unusual. I wasn't willing to pay extra for a bowl of rice so I eventually got overwhelmed by fishiness...

2nd box: Chikuzen-ni, grilled salmon, omelette
The grilled salmon and omelette (Tomago) were normal. The Chikuzen-ni was really good (but again, dark meat so not everyone is a fan). Chikuzen-ni is traditionally made with different vegetables and roots, and some of those were included in the box. I took an adventurous taste of Konjac gel, a thick gelatin made from Konjac (look it up on Wikipedia, the first picture of a gray slab with black dots on the left is what I ate). It is not to my liking.

3rd box: Shrimp and veggie tempura

Second Course: Sushi
Tuna, salmon, shrimp, eel, yellowtail, flounder
Salmon & avocado roll
I had never had flounder before and I've decided I'm not a fan. Not really a reflection on the quality of the fish. I liked the eel, shrimp, and salmon and avocado roll. The sushi was all very good and high quality but I was way too stuffed to finish it. I ended up sending most of it to my friend's office to share with her co-workers.

Third Course: Ice Cream
You could choose green tea or mango ice cream. We ended up with one of each. The green tea tasted exactly like the unsweetened powdered green tea you buy in Asian speciality stores and was practically rock hard. If you like the green tea or don't have a big sweet tooth, you'd probably like it. The mango was fantastic.

The Service
The service was ok. The server seemed like she was irritated by something else (not us) but was trying not to let us know that, but then it came across anyway, which made it extremely awkward. I also ordered green tea ice cream and got mango, but I'm not complaining after seeing the green tea.

If you want really high-quality sushi, this is the place to go. It's more expensive than your average sushi place, but afterall, you pay more for the good stuff. Their other dishes are all traditional, which I greatly appreciate. I'm tired of "Japanese" restaurants serving "Philly rolls," sickly sweet teriyaki chicken and other Americanized dishes. If I wanted that, I'd go to a fusion restaurant. However, some of their dishes were totally average, like the edamame and tempura. Do you really want to pay $6 for an average plate of edamame?

The service was strange but I want to say it was probably just an off-day for that particular server. I'm not holding that against them.

Rating: 7/10

Sushi Taro
1503 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA
TEL : 202-462-8999

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I have a common name in Turkey, but I never knew anyone with it growing up in the States. So whenever I hear my name, I know without a doubt that I'm the person being paged. Well, I just moved into a new apartment in a condo complex, and it turns out that there's a nice little Turkish community here. I was at the pool yesterday and a toddler came in with her mother and grandmother. As it turns out, they're Turkish and the toddler has my name.

I'm lying out by the pool, reading some book for work, when suddenly I hear "Name! Don't go in the deep end!!" all in Turkish. I sit up suddenly, thinking, What? I'm not! I'm just reading! Then I realize these people only sound like my relatives. They are actually yelling at the toddler and not at me. Over the next 20-30 minutes, every time they called out her name I would start up suddenly. I just hope they're not at the pool every time I'm there...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Review: Hook DC

Hook is a restaurant in Georgetown that specializes in seafood that is eco-friendly and sustainable. So naturally, I'm a huge fan.

The Service
Strange. The waitstaff is always very friendly, but extremely slow. I went once in January with my mom for dinner when the restaurant was packed, and then recently with my roommate for lunch when the restaurant was relatively empty. It's almost as if the service is intentionally slow, which in this case is not a good business decision. Additionally, the second time around the server never asked us how the food was and got easily distracted by happenings outside our window.

The Food
When I went in January with my mom, absolutely all the seafood we had was magnificent. The dessert was nothing special, but it still tasted good. Everything was phenomenal. When I went this last time, both the hamburger and the calamari were burned - and not in the tasty, smoky way. It was unpleasant. The mushroom cream sauce that came with the calamari was delicious and perfectly complemented the fried poached egg. The french fries that came with the burger were better than I expected from shoestring fries, with a soft texture on the inside and tasty seasoning on the outside. The tuna tartar was also good, although they could have served it with more sauce (wasabi and chili sauces were drizzled on the plate). Dessert was a raspberry tart with vanilla ice cream and peanut brittle. The tart tasted store-bought but the ice cream and brittle were fantastic. One major thing I appreciated was the fact that they carry authentic German white beers - it was the first time I've had the real stuff since leaving Germany.

Rating: 7/10
If I had rated the restaurant after my first visit, they would have a 10/10. But lunch was continually disappointing and the server never once asked us how the food was. I don't typically send food back because I don't want to waste it. In retrospect I should have been more aggressive this time. We might have had a better experience if they had re-made both the burger and the calamari. I will definitely give them the benefit of the doubt and go back again, because sometimes restaurants just have a bad day.

3241 M St. NW
Washington, DC 20007

Review: Georgetown Cupcake

Georgetown Cupcake is known throughout DC for its scrumptious...well, cupcakes. Their new show on TLC has no doubt boosted their name recognition, although the show itself is a total disaster.

The Service
Everyone who works in the front look like local college students and they're all very friendly. The one complaint I've heard (it's my friend's absolute pet peeve) is that they wear gloves in order to avoid contaminating the food, and then touch their hair with the gloves on their hands - completely defeating the purpose. I've never seen it and even if I did, it absolutely doesn't bother me. The line is also a total pain but avoidable. If you can, go before 11:45am.

The Food
The cupcakes that I like, I LOVE, with coconut, salted caramel, and toffee topping the list. However, they also have a lot of cupcakes that are boring at best, including cookies n' creme, chocolate coconut, and white chocolate raspberry (The last one is a total disaster. I shared it with four people and no one liked it). People who have told me they don't like Georgetown cupcake are those who do not like excessively sweet things or do not like frosting (or the first cupcake they tried was the white chocolate raspberry).
Front: Red Velvet and Cherry Blossom. Back: Coconut

Rating: 9/10
They lose the one point for those $2.75 cupcakes I bought and absolutely couldn't stand.

Georgetown Cupcake - Georgetown
3301 M Street NW (corner of 33rd & M)
Washington, DC 2000

Review: Matchbox (Brunch)

So, this is a little late in coming (say, eight months?) so I don't remember all the details.

The Service
Don't remember the service, which means it was not horrible. What was awesome, however, is that if they know you're in a group, they'll automatically divide up the food on the receipt by seats. So you get one receipt, but there is a different section for every person. This made life ridiculously easy.

The Food
I got the waffles with strawberries and a raspberry-lime whipped cream. The food was really tasty, but frankly the raspberry-lime flavor didn't come across at all. The whip cream was pink, and that was about it.  My neighbor got "stuffed french toast." It was two slices of "french toast" made with french baguette with cream placed between the two pieces, so it's totally different than the french toast you'd expect. I could see that disappointing some people, but according to my friend it still tasted great. Rant for all restaurants: You charge us $2 - 3 extra to get fruit and then there is maybe 1 sliced strawberry or 4 blueberries on the plate. WHAT IS THAT?

Rating: 9/10
It's an easy, affordable place to go with friends and you'll get delicious food - even if it's not exactly what was described on the menu. There is a lot to be said about places that afford convenience when you go with more than 6 people.

Matchbox Chinatown
713 H St NW,
Washington, D.C. 20001