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Convivial: Best Meal of 2016 Thus Far

9 Sep

In what is a really overdue post, Rachel and I dined at Cedric Maupillier’s newest restaurant in Shaw a few months ago and were wowed by every facet the French-American bistro had to offer.

From the modern interior that seeped in an abundance of sunlight to the straightforward menu (actual entrees!) to the impeccably executed food, Convivial is a gem in Shaw and rightfully deserves its #4 ranking in Washingtonian’s “100 Very Best Restaurants 2016.”

Escargot in a blanket

As fans of Mintwood Place, where Chef Maupillier first made his mark in the District, it was great to see a refreshing take on his beloved escargot hushpuppies with escargot in, well, a blanket. Crunchy and delectable, this is the appetizer you need to start your meal off with.

Soccer with beets

The socca, however, is an absolute must-order just on presentation alone. The chickpea pancake sets the foundation for a tower of beets, citrus fruit, shaved fennel, and picholine olives. The combination, as eccentric as it sounds on paper, works so effortlessly well and is the epitome of a summer dish – light, refreshing, and full of flavor.

soft shell crab meunière

Rachel’s soft shell crab meunière was a delight, which was complemented by sweet corn and hazelnut grits.

fried chicken "coq au vin"

Naturally I had to try the fried chicken “coq au vin” which was just as good as it sounded. The doubly fried and braised chicken was incredibly juicy, bursting with notes of red wine, yet maintained a satisfyingly crunch after each bite.

key lime pie with speculoos crust

The key lime pie with speculoos crust was an outstanding dessert and rivaled any slice originating from Key West. Topped with slices of kiwi, Rachel and I would buy an entire pie if we could.

And while the food was incredible, the service was top-notch as well. Our friendly waitress helped us navigate the menu and was continually checking up on us.

Furthermore, given the quality and size of portions, I honestly think Convivial is one of the better values in the city. Both of our entrees were under $20, and considering the work Chef Maupillier and Co. are doing in the kitchen, I tip my hat to them for offering five-star food at such an affordable price point in a city that’s getting more expensive by the year if not month.

Convivial is an exceptional restaurant and both Rachel and I are comfortable in saying in that it’s been our best meal of the year so far.

Convival Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Maketto at Hanoi House

16 Oct

A few weeks ago, my friend and I decided to try somewhere fun and new for dinner on a Saturday night. Lately, this seems to be easier said than done, especially if you want a reservation and don’t want to wait hours for a table.

While scanning OpenTable, the listing Maketto at Hanoi House piqued my interest. I didn’t realize that Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground was doing a three-month residency there to test out the menu for his new restaurant on H Street, slated to open later this year.

The concept was $30 per person for a prix-fixe meal of seven courses, in the cuisine of Cambodian and Taiwanese food. This seemed similar to Little Serow, but with actual reservations available, and online no less. We couldn’t pass up the chance to try Bruner-Yang’s food without waiting hours for a table, so off we went!

Udon noodles

We started out with simple udon noodles with a salted egg and a separate bowl of ponzu sauce for dipping. These were some of the freshest noodles I have tasted – thick but also light at the same time.

Japanese fish cake

The second dish was called Okonomoiyaki, which was a Japanese fish cake. It was also prepared with pork belly, shrimp and some shaved mackerel on top.  It packed incredible flavor and was a great indication of what was to come. I loved how the spice gave the dish a kick but didn’t completely overwhelm it either.

Prahok Kh'Tih

The third and fourth dishes came together. The first was Prahok Kh’Tih, which was like a spicy dip blended with ground chicken and came with a side of fresh raw vegetables for dipping as well as some white rice to help soak up the sauce. I only wished there were more vegetables for us to dip with. The other dish was called Samlah Machu Kroueng, and it was a big bowl of soup with chicken wings, vegetables, and lemongrass. It was delicious, but not my favorite dish of the night.

Samlah Machu Kroueng

While we were eating these two plates, the dim sum cart rolled by. We were on our way to getting full with even more food coming, but it was hard to pass up on at least trying one or two items at only two dollars a piece. We wound up ordering a steamed pork bun and a spicy corn dish that the server recommended.

Steamed pork bun

Moving on, the last two savory dishes that came together were Mapo Tofu and Taiwanese fried chicken. The fermented tofu dish was probably the only one that was a little too spicy for me, so I didn’t eat too much of it. At that point, I realized that they would pack home anything we didn’t finish, so Brett got to enjoy that one later. If only I knew that with some of the other dishes, too!

Mapo Tofu

The fried chicken was incredible. They were small, boneless pieces that were tender and worked wonderfully well with the accompanying dipping sauce. We both remarked how we would order the fried chicken as a separate to-go order.

Taiwanese fried chicken

Just when we couldn’t eat any more, out came dessert. I didn’t know what to expect since the dish was called Vigilante Coffee. It was actually beignets served over coffee beans and came with a foamy dipping sauce. It was the perfect ending to a fun and adventurous meal.

Vigilante Coffee

If our outing to Maketto was any indication for how the real restaurant will be on H Street, then DC is in for a treat and another blockbuster hit from Erik Bruner-Yang. Go while you still can – the residency ends October 31.

Hanoi House on Urbanspoon

Kapnos: A Culinary Tour of Northern Greece

20 Aug

Rachel and I were excited to try Mike Isabella’s latest venture, Kapnos, so we jumped at the chance when friends of our made reservations for a Saturday night a few weeks ago. Situated in the dining hotbed of the 14th Street corridor, Kapnos features a small plates menu that is centrally focused around Northern Greek cuisine.

Before even arriving, Kapnos already has a distinct advantage: they take reservations (via CityEats). Compared to many new 14th Street eateries where tables are first-come, first-serve, this was a refreshing change of pace and great for those who don’t live in U Street and are unable to stroll in on a moment’s notice.

When we walked in, we immediately noticed the two massive spits in the open kitchen, slowly rotating the chicken, duck, lamb, goat, and suckling pig that have been roasting all day.

Given how unbearably humid it was outside that Saturday night, the four of us started the evening with a pitcher of their homemade kegged lemonades. The Skinos Lemonade featured Skinos, a liqueur made from a Greek tree, watermelon, tarragon, and lemon. Incredibly refreshing, it was also just as overpriced at $42 for a rather small pitcher. I’m not one to usually complain about drink prices, but I felt that this was rather excessive. That didn’t stop us from getting two pitchers though, since like I said, they were ridiculously good and refreshing.

We decided to split a duo of housemade spreads – the tzatziki and melitzanosalata (eggplant dip). The former was light and refreshing while the latter featured a good amount of smokiness. Not to be outdone was the piping hot, fluffy flatbread that accompanied the spreads. Spreading the smoky eggplant over the fresh bread made for a great appetizer.

Roasted duck phyllo pie

Up next was one of our favorite dishes of the evening, the roasted duck phyllo pie. Flaky on the outside and tender in the inside, Rachel and I only wished there was more of it. And for what equated to be two small pieces, there should have at least been a third give the $13 price tag.

Smoky beets

The smoky beets were another hit amongst our group, albeit a little hard to share. Featuring yogurt, green peppercorn, and citrus, this made for a quality summer dish.

Clams

The clams dish from the “Barely Raw Mezze” portion of the menu was probably one of my least favorite dishes of the evening. Prepared with cod belly, wild onion, and dill pollen and atop a bed of salt, the flavors didn’t really work for me.

Braised cauliflower

On the flipside, the braised cauliflower was terrific. Featuring tomato, chickpeas, and fenugreek, the entire table really enjoyed this vegetable dish and the sauce was great to sop up with the pita bread.

Charred octopus

The main highlight, however, might have been the charred octopus. Prepared with green harissa and eggplant, each bite transported us back to Mykonos when we were on our honeymoon. Just wonderfully executed.

Poached lobster

The poached lobster was a bit of a letdown given how little meat there was. Prepared with hilopites pasta, tomato, and mizithra, the dish itself was fine but the lack of lobster put a damper on it as a whole.

Spiced baby goat

Meanwhile, you can’t go wrong with their meats from the wood-fire grills. We tried both the suckling pig and the spiced baby goat. Both were tender and succulent, though I enjoyed the suckling pig a little more personally.

Suckling pig

The desserts look delicious but we were full at that point and decided to call it a night.

As for the service, our waiter was very helpful in helping us what to order given his knowledge of the menu. If there was one thing I would have to nitpick about, it would be the prices. I’m not going to go into a small plates tirade, but when the cost of some these dishes amounts to an entrée at another establishment, it means the menu is overpriced.

For instance, the lobster dish had two tiny pieces of meat in it, and it was $19. A lobster roll from Red Pound is four dollars less and is overflowing with lobster meat. I know I’m comparing a full-service restaurant to a food truck, but you get this gist of it. Maybe we were just craving simple steak frites at the time. It’s not to say the food wasn’t good, but next time we go out I’m looking forward to my own plate of meat.

Kapnos on Urbanspoon

Brunch at Local 16

12 Jan

When one thinks of Local 16, their bar scene instantly comes to mind, specifically their rooftop terrace in the summertime. We haven’t been in years (mostly because it is typically too crowded), but an offer from The Capitol Deal a few months ago piqued our interest: $15 for a brunch entrée as well as bottomless mimosas or Bloody Mary’s.

At first, we honestly had no idea that they served brunch, but after doing some digging, it turns out that Local 16 was also home to DC pizzaiolo Edan MacQuaid, formerly of local pizzerias 2 Amy’s and Pizzeria Orso. Evidently Local 16 was MacQuaid’s new residence and that his pizzas were receiving some rather high acclaim.

Aden Pizza

While the brunch menu offered typical fare such as Eggs Benedict, pancakes, and French toast, both Rachel and I opted for one of their pizzas instead. I ordered the Aden, which included house made sausage, piquillo peppers, caramelized onions, fennel, and mozzarella. The chewy crust had a nice char to it while the peppers added some spice to the dish. I particularly liked the sausage as it had a very pronounced flavor and blended well with the caramelized onions.

Rachel went with the Garfield, which featured tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, ricotta, and parmesan. Local 16 sources their produce from Whipple Farm in Virginia, so it’s no wonder that the cherry tomatoes were delightfully rich in flavor.

Garfield Pizza

And how we could not mention the bottomless pitchers of mimosas? Local 16 kept the libations flowing throughout our meal, even well after we finished our pizzas. Even better – they weren’t gradually diluting the beverages after each pitcher, something we’ve experienced at other restaurants offering unlimited drinks.

For $15, it was an excellent deal. The pizzas alone will cost you $12 a la carte while glasses of mimosas and Bloody Mary’s are $3 and $5 each, respectively. The funny thing is that it had turned out we didn’t even need to buy The Capitol Deal voucher as Local 16 offers the brunch special year-round as long as you are a fan of their Facebook page. Good to know for next time, obviously. Just be sure to make a reservation as they do book up for this special.

Coincidentally, Don Rockwell recently announced that MacQuaid will be partnering up with one of Local 16’s owners to open his very own pizzeria on 1832 14th Street NW. The menu will feature a handful of wood-fired oven pizzas as well as some other dishes. No projected opening date as of yet, but rest assured, we’ll gladly keep our eyes peeled on it.

Local 16 on Urbanspoon

A Saturday Brunch at Eatonville

1 Nov

The last time we went to Eatonville was back when it first opened over two years ago, so we were long overdue for a return visit. With Rachel’s friend Dave in town for the day, we were looking for a restaurant that offered brunch on Saturday, something that is obviously more difficult to find as opposed to the traditional Sunday meal.

Fortunately, Eatonville offers brunch on both days, and considering that Dave was staying at his friend’s place at the condo building next door, it made for a particularly easy meeting spot. We also met up with our friends Alicia and Matthew who are in Shirlington, so this was a nice middle ground between there and Bethesda.

Fried Green Tomatoes

While Eatonville is focused on Southern cooking, it’s easy to overlook their excellent beer selection. While several varieties of Abita grace the draft line, Troegs, Ommegang, and North Coast Brewing Co. can also be found. Luckily for us, Schlafly Pumpkin Ale was featured as their seasonal draft. For those that are fans of pumpkin beer, this (along with Southern Tier’s Pumking) is one of the best you will come across. Rachel’s Bloody Mary was also quite tasty with a generous amount of horseradish and spices.

As for brunch itself, Eatonville servers up several comfort food classics such as shrimp and grits, gumbo, and po’ boys. We decided to share an order of fried green tomatoes for the table to start things off. Topped with avocado and a micro-greens salad, the tomatoes were delightfully crunchy and had just the right amount of breading on them without being too heavy or greasy.

Steak and Eggs

For our entrees, I went with a hearty order of steak and eggs. The description pretty much matches the title of the dish: a petite filet (I asked for it medium-rare), scrambled eggs, and “Eatonville” hash (a mixture of potatoes and bacon). When it arrived, my steak was so rare that it was nearly inedible. I informed my waiter how undercooked the beef was and he swiftly apologized and brought it back to the kitchen. Ten minutes later, he came returned with a new plate of freshly cooked eggs, potatoes, and most importantly, a medium-rare steak. This time, the kitchen got it right and overall, it was pretty good. Tender, flavorful, and while not the biggest portion, it did the job.

Eggs with mac and cheese, chicken sausage, and biscuit.

Rachel couldn’t make up her mind (surprise, surprise) so she decided to get the Eggs and Fixings. She chose the scrambled eggs with a buttermilk biscuit along with chicken andouille sausage and mac and cheese. Not her typical breakfast choices, but she had just completed a 13 mile training run earlier that day, so she felt that mac and cheese was a perfectly acceptable choice for breakfast. And it was definitely a good decision as we both couldn’t stop eating it.

Outside of the undercooked steak snafu, we had a lovely time at Eatonville. Their fried green tomatoes are some of the best you will come across in the District while their mac and cheese is highly addictive. The fact that they offer Saturday brunch is a nice touch as well. One of these days I’ll order The Callahan (fried chicken on biscuit with sausage gravy), but you’d have to convince me to run ten miles beforehand.

Eatonville on Urbanspoon

Gyros at The Greek Spot

7 Jun

Marking the one year anniversary of our honeymoon to the Greek Isles, we felt that there was no better way to commemorate our adventures in Greece than with dinner at the beloved Greek Spot.

We have been to the Greek Spot in the past as it’s an ideal place to grab some dinner before a show at the nearby 9:30 Club. We were seeing Titus Andronicus and Okkervil River that evening, so Rachel and I were looking for something fast and casual so we wouldn’t miss any of the acts.

Gyro

Without hesitation, I (of course) ordered the traditional gyro. The lamb was tender, flavorful, and nicely seasoned while the pita was warm and soft. It’s arguably one of the better gyros you’ll find in this city, and for under seven bucks, it’s a great value. The tzatziki is downright delicious, but once it blends with the generous portions of lamb stuffed inside the pita, it’s as if you’re walking down the streets of Athens.

I do have to admit that Marathon Deli (in College Park) might have the best gyro in regards to the entire metropolitan area, but Greek Spot comes in at a close second. How we haven’t posted about Marathon yet is beyond me, but rest assured, they’ll make it on here soon enough.

Rachel went with the vegetarian gyro platter as she had read good things about it on Yelp. She likes trying some non-meat options every once in a while and the soy steak strips sounded appealing.

Vegetarian gyro platter

The platter is a great deal since it comes with four triangles of pita, tzatziki sauce, a small salad, and lots of meat (err, fake meat) on a bed of orzo. It was a ton of food for $9.50, and an even better deal for me since I helped Rachel eat half the platter. It’s a nice way to build your own sandwich if you want the additional sides while not having to deal with a sometimes messy sandwich.

She enjoyed the soy strips and even I was surprised how well they went with the platter, but next time will probably stick to chicken souvlaki or a traditional gyro.

Between the two of us, we had a hearty, satisfying dinner for around $20, including two Boylan sodas. Among the quality of the food, the price, and the gorgeous weather outside, you could not ask for a better pre-show meal.

Greek Spot on Urbanspoon

Unlimited Pre Fixe Brunch at Masa 14

10 Jan

Daily Petite QuicheI recently heard about the deal at Masa 14 for Sunday brunch, and upon first glance, it seemed too good to be true. My friend Livya and I decided to check it out for ourselves and indulge on unlimited tapas and drinks for $35.

We decided to order some drinks first, with Livya choosing the Masa Mimosa while I got the Lychee Bellini. Both were very refreshing and we hardly noticed when they would come by with pitchers to refill. I think we each had about four glasses, but it was hard to tell since the servers never let our glasses go empty.

To start, we ordered the Daily Petite Quiche, Hijiki Seaweed-jicama Salad, Petite Mushroom Escabeche Omelet, Veggie Benedict, Black Bean Puree, and Spiced Tuna Steak. Granted, this may appear like an excessive amount of food, but Masa 14 specializes in Latin-Asian tapas, so these smaller plates are meant to be shared.

Masa Mimosa and Lychee BelliniHijiki Seaweed-jicama SaladPetite Mushroom Escabeche Omelet

Overall, everything was delicious, with some standouts like the seaweed salad, tuna, and omelet. Some of the dishes were definitely heavier than others, and before we knew it, we were getting full with all the plates in front of us.

The rare tuna steak came on a sandwich bun along with a small but thick piece of bacon, avocado, and wasabi. The bread wasn’t really necessary so we discarded it to focus on the high quality piece of fish. The Veggie Benedict was actually a variety of roasted vegetables with a poached egg atop a piece of challah bread. Again, a nice dish but the bread seemed to overpower the rest of it. The black bean puree was a perfect bite with a scoop of the puree with poached egg on a tortilla chip.

Black Bean PureeSpiced Tuna SteakVeggie Benedict

We decided to order a few more items to stretch out our relaxing and gluttonous Sunday. Up next was the Fruit and Granola with yuzu yogurt, the Pan Dulce with ancho whipped cream and pineapple syrup, and to top it off, the Crunchy Shrimp. I know looking at these selections, you might think, “dessert, dessert, and shrimp?” Yes, it definitely did not belong, but with unlimited options to choose from, it was simply too hard to resist. The sesame crusted shrimp came with a chipolti aioli sauce that went perfectly together. We only ate one or two, and then it was on to dessert.

The fruit, granola, and yogurt combo was nice and light, and definitely the healthiest thing we ate all day. The large chunks of homemade granola were nice and crunchy and elevated the dish to more than just a bowl of fruit. The Pan Dulce tasted just like French toast and was a perfect way to end the meal.

Crunchy ShrimpPan DulceFruit and Granola with yuzu yogurt

All in all, brunch at Masa 14 is a great opportunity to try lots of different items on the menu without feeling limited by price. It’s hard to tell how much of a deal it was, since we didn’t individually add up each dish to see if we would have spent as much or less compared to ordering a la carte.

However, the unlimited drinks alone makes the $35 brunch worthwhile. If we went with a larger party we would have been able to try more dishes, but regardless, we undeniably left satisfied. I could potentially see us going with a group of 10 and basically ordering the entire menu, with everyone being able to have more than their fair share of food while already knowing up front what the bill would amount to. Hmm, this year’s birthday idea perhaps?

Masa 14 on Urbanspoon