Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pet Peeves

A Redskins loss. Overdraft fees. Finding out you already ate the last cookie. These are all things that get on my nerves. However, of all things, the thing that annoys me most is when a restaurant doesn't have an online menu. There's something about having an insatiable appetite and having a type A personality that just hits me the wrong way when I can't know exactly what I'm ordering before I walk into a restaurant. Call it a character flaw - I'm working on it.

If I can't see a menu and easily access it at all times, that's pretty much a deal breaker for me with a few exceptions. The greatest example of this is Raku, my hands down, favorite restaurant in Bethesda. I know what you're thinking - "Your favorite in THE city of restaurants? You're crazy hungrylittlegirl, you can't possibly choose just ONE favorite!" You try and eat there and tell me I'm wrong.

Ok, so I don't want to totally hype this place up and make you think you'll be eating with golden utensils and be getting a massage with dessert because there are some flaws. The place is SMALL. They really cram you in there so forget it if you're considering a quiet romantic dinner or catching up with grandma. In such a small joint, the service can be pretty spotty since getting around isn't easy unless you're an olympic gymnast but they do the best they can. Then again, all of these things can be remedied with an order of sake.

Lucky for me, the last visit I made was during Bethesda Row's restaurant week (who knew they had one?!) so I got 3 courses for $30. Raku offers pretty much their whole menu for RW with only a few surcharge options. Even luckier for me I went with my family so I got to taste a whole array of this place's Asian fusion goodies.

Chicken Satay Salad

Pretty straight forward, but so delicious. Chicken satay, mixed greens, micro greens, cilantro and mangoes. Yummy and refreshing start.

Grilled Asian BBQ Octopus            
Ok, now don't get all weirded out on me. It looks weird - it's an octopus. Well your beloved fried calamari is a SQUID so get over it.

Usually you can't get very fresh octo around here so it's usually pretty chewy by the time it gets to your table. However, this was tender, not too chewy and grilled with a delicious Asian BBQ sauce that had a little kick at the end. Definitely looks like this will be a repeat offender for me.

Fried Calamari

While we're at it, let's eat another tentacled sea creature, shall we? By principle I shouldn't like this version of calamari (breaded with cornmeal so it's not as... squid feeling) but they make it work.

Oh! and the sauce! The sauce! Call me a cilantro-whore but the creamy cilantro dipping sauce is to die.

Chinese Spiced Duck Breast

Are you still wondering why I love this place? It's duck, people, cooked a perfect medium-rare with a killer plum sauce that doesn't overwhelm the fatty goodness of this delicious piece of poultry.

In fusiony nature, they serve this with spaetzle instead of rice which actually soaks up said sauce quite well. There were vegetables on this plate? Forgive me for forgetting.

Grilled NY Strip

How do Asians do steak? Covered in thinly sliced caramelized onions and a hoisiny sauce on top of a perfectly cooked piece of meat so tender you'd think it was a ribeye.
Grilled Whole Bronzino

Stuffed with tons of aromatics, this little fishy wins for the night. Simple, yet so flavorful you wonder what's really in there. The sweet potato chips add a nice touch too.

So how do I deal with this pet peeve? At Raku it doesn't even matter because with food this good, I already know whatever I order will work.

7240 Woodmont Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814

A Tribute to Arlington

I know it's been a while, but I place all the blame on Verizon Fios for the delay in my internet service. In accordance with my change of internet service is my change of address. Sadly, I have moved from my beloved city of Arlington, VA. Usually when someone moves, they grow to miss their friends, their neighbors and simple parts that they become accustomed to when living at a certain place. For me, I already miss my favorite spots to eat.

Arlington, to say the least, is an affluent area chock full of pretentious eateries, but I have my favorites that I went back to time and time again. This post will highlight those for your viewing pleasure.

Mei's Asian Bistro

To say that I love sushi would be the understatement of the century. Some want to die in their sleep and I would prefer a death by mercury poisoning – that would be the most pleasant way to go. I've tried every sushi place in Arlington and out of all of them this is my go-to. Don't get me wrong, its not perfect. This place is always understaffed so the sushi takes forever and sometimes the owners have to chip in as servers. As far as food goes, this place is worth the wait.

They have a great variety of sushi rolls but my favorites are the white fish tempura, crunch tuna hidden dragon and alligator maki. Sashimi is always fresh here too for you purists. I'll be honest though, I can't vouch for anything else but their sushi is the best you'll find in the area.

Cafe Pizzaiolo

Ok, so we don't live in New York City. I get that. I don't get why good pizza is so hard to come by around here. On the endless search for good pizza, I stumbled across Cafe Pizzaiolo in Crystal City. It's a really small place with board games so it's very family oriented and casual. They also serve sandwiches, beer, wine and gelato for dessert.

Extra Virgin

Psst... don't tell anyone but this place is actually a chain. After stepping into this Shirlington restaurant, you would never know. One taste of the bread and olive oil (with pureed olive or something of the sort in it) and you can pretty much guarantee that everything here will be good. The menu changes seasonally but the pizza here is a constant winner (you have to ask specifically for the pizza menu). Don't miss out on the live jazz every week either.

Mei's Asian Bistro
3434 Washington Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201

Cafe Pizzaiolo
507 South 23rd St.
Arlington, VA 22202
Extra Virgin
4053 Campbell Ave
Arlington, VA 22206

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Beach Food Special: The Toucan

The sad truth is, summer is over. Luckily for me, I was able to get a last visit to Ocean City, Md. for Labor Day weekend and visited all of my favorites places to try to soak in the last bits of summer 2009. Of course I had to visit all my sentimental favorites but I also like to try a new place each time to see if I can add a newbie to the mix for next summer.

I had heard great buzz about The Toucan, a small Costa Rican-style restaurant located adjacent to a K-Coast surf shop near the boardwalk. I was always bitter that we didn't have more restaurants like this, ones more likely to be found on the west coast, where "surfer food" (think fish tacos) was served. I convinced my family to come along and it was definitely worth it.

The place is very small inside with a few bayside picnic tables, all with table service. The staff was pleasant and definitely supported the laid back theme. The worst part of this place was trying to decide what to eat because every single thing on the menu sounded amazing.

We started with chips and guacamole and it was clear right off the bat that everything here was made fresh. The chips were freshly made and the salsa and guacamole were nice and chunky.
I ended up ordering the fried tilapia taco platter, which comes with 2 tacos, rice, beans and chips and salsa all for $6.99. I was concerned the breading would overpower the fish taste, but it was just right and the tacos were flavorful with just the right crunch. Everything else that my family ordered was equally delicious including the carnitas rice bowl and the shrimp rice bowl.
All in all, this place surely secured a spot in the 2010 summer rotation for OCMD and was cheap enough to maybe make 2 trips the next go-round. This kind of establishment is what the beach needs and a great addition to the area!
The Toucan
3505 Coastal Hwy
Ocean City, MD 21842

Bethesda Street Food?

Still reeling off a recent episode of No Reservations (hosted by my boyfriend Anthony Bourdain, if you didn't know) about street food, I have been recently craving an equally delicious find in the DC area. I found this a great excuse to try Ali Baba's Falafel in Bethesda. I had been hearing great reviews on this place, located next to the Farm Women's Co-op on Wisconsin Avenue, so I figured this would be the place to satisfy my street food craving.

I made my way at lunchtime and got in line. It smelled great and the line was long so I got excited and anticipated something along the lines of the New York City food carts' falafels. This may be where I went wrong.

Don't get me wrong, the actual falafel was delicious. It was made mostly of fava beans instead of the usual chickpeas, giving it a different texture and a bright green color. Unfortunately, that was the only part of the experience I enjoyed.
The wrap (not a pita) they used wasn't heated up enough and really bland tasting, the sauce (SO key!) was watery and flavorless and I'm not even sure that hummus (which they don't have in these sandwiches!) could have saved this. Thorough disapointment.

The worst part is that I really wanted to like this place. I guess I'll be sticking to Levante's if I want falafel in Bethesda.

Ali Baba's Falafel
7155 Wisconsin Ave
Bethesda, MD 20814