Archive | Penn Quarter RSS feed for this section

Happy Hour at Sei and an Encore Dinner at Carmine's

30 Mar

Before meeting a group for dinner at Carmine’s, we went across the street to Sei Restaurant & Lounge for happy hour.

The restaurant offers specials at the bar Monday through Friday from 5pm to 8pm, making it one of the longer happy hours available in DC. Considering it is difficult to get down to the Penn Quarter area before 6pm most evenings, Sei was very appealing.

Spicy tuna roll

We ordered drinks right away and I got the Asian Pear Sangria while Brett ordered a Sapporo. Although we were about to head to Carmine’s for a big dinner, Brett was a little hungry so we ordered the  to tie us over. I had one of the rolls and can say that they were incredibly fresh and had a nice kick to them. We have been to Sei for happy hour several times now, and I definitely want to go back at some point soon for dinner.

Sapporo and Asian Pear Sangria

We then headed to Carmine’s and somehow managed to order the perfect amount of food for 14 people. This was a dinner through a group at our synagogue, and I volunteered to help plan the event. We had to find a place that could easily host large parties, but didn’t want to worry about itemizing everything on the bill. Carmine’s was a no-brainer in that sense. We split the costs for the family style meal, and then everyone added in what they owed for drinks.

Somehow, each person only owed $18, and that included tax and tip (at least for the food bill)! We all shared Caesar salad, mixed greens, eggplant parmesan, chicken marsala, Penne alla Vodka, spaghetti and meatballs, spinach, and broccoli. Everything was delicious, and we both agreed that some of the dishes even tasted better compared to our first visit a few months ago.

Carmine's Titantic

The spaghetti and meatballs was a proven hit, and everyone really loved the eggplant parmesan and chicken marsala. We definitely didn’t need dessert, but decided to go big or go home, and ordered the monstrous Titanic.

Yes, it’s called that for a reason. Think of it as a colossal banana split sundae, complete with fudge brownie, countless scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and of course, whipped cream. We all attacked the sundae and then cried mercy. The evening turned out to be a fun time with good food, great conversation, and all at an incredibly affordable price.

Sei on Urbanspoon

Hill Country Barbecue Market: Texas Love from New York

29 Mar

Meal TicketJust a couple of weeks after its grand opening, Rachel and I finally had the opportunity to try NYC import Hill Country Barbecue Market. That’s right, I said NYC. And while Hill Country features Texas barbecue, this isn’t your traditional BBQ stand.

The space is completely massive, with the upstairs being completely dedicated to a huge dining room as a well as a bar in the front of the house. Meanwhile, the downstairs “club level” features more tables, a bar, and a stage for live bands.

When we arrived, we were greeted by our hostess who then handed us a “meal ticket”. Each person who dines at Hill Country receives a ticket as it is required by the restaurant to keep track of all of its orders. Even if your party only uses one ticket for the whole table, make sure to hang onto them regardless. Otherwise, you might get penalized with a $50 fee!

We arrived right in the heart of their happy hour which runs from 3pm to 7pm, seven days a week. Considering it was a Sunday evening, it was an added bonus. Hill Country featured specials on pitchers of Shiner, $5 margaritas, and two-for-one bottle specials. But as much as we want to discuss drink specials, we were here for one purpose: to eat some Texas ‘cue!Collard greens and campfire baked beans (with burnt ends)

The thing that sets Hill Country apart from other BBQ restaurants is that the waiter only serves you drinks, not food. You’re wholly responsible for ordering and picking up your BBQ from the “market” located on the main floor. Customers get in line and then tell the pitmaster what meats they want, ordering by the pound. Then, patrons head over to a different counter where sides and desserts are served.

Being the incredibly indecisive couple that we are, we decided to go all out and order the Pitmaster’s Combo instead of individually select certain items from the meal ticket. For $24, you receive a quarter pound of lean brisket, one pork spare rib, one beef rib, a quarter chicken, and two 8oz sides. It’s an additional dollar should you choose sides from their “Hot Favorites” portion of the menu.  We did just that as we got both the campfire baked beans (with burnt ends!) as well as the collard greens with applewood smoked bacon. Still, for $26, it’s A LOT of food.

And how was it, you ask? Well, I was big fan of the brisket. Smoked for hours, it was incredibly tender and, despite receiving lean instead of moist (less fat versus more), it was delicious. It was the star of the show and some of the best brisket I’ve had in DC proper. The chicken was incredibly juicy, and while it didn’t capture the smokiness of the brisket, it was still very good.

Pitmaster's Combo

While the beef rib tasted great, I’ve had much larger ribs elsewhere. The pork spare rib was even worse as there was barely any meat at all on the bone. Let’s put it this way: I’ve found more meat on spare ribs at Chinese buffets than what Hill Country served me.

I also have to admit, I was pretty disappointed with the baked beans. Considering that they were prepared with burnt ends, one of my favorite BBQ dishes (and a Kansas City specialty), these beans just weren’t very good. Too watery, barely smoky, and just not a whole lot of overall flavor. Considering I’ve had Jack Stack’s version of the dish, there is just no comparison. If you’ve had it, you know what I’m talking about.  Rachel thought they were good, but then again, she hasn’t been to KC. The collard greens weren’t bad, but it’s kind of difficult to mess those up.

Despite all the hype, I wasn’t really blown away. Sure, the brisket and chicken were great, but the mediocre spare rib and baked beans brought things down to earth. The meal ticket was also kind of a nuisance as we only ended up using one for our table but still had to hang on to the others when checking out at the register. It’s a similar gimmick Vapiano uses that I’m just not a fan of.

All and all, it’s nice to see another entrant in the DC barbecue market, but I think I’m just going to stick to Urban Bar-B-Que Company for now.

Hill Country Barbecue Market is located at 410 Seventh Street NW in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, DC.

Hill Country Barbecue Market on Urbanspoon

New Years Eve Dinner at Carmine's

4 Jan

As we are reaching the age of essentially not caring about New Years Eve, we decided to go out and have a nice dinner with friends instead. Since there were eight of us, Carmine’s was an optimal venue for group dining.

When Rachel and I walked in, we could not believe how massive the space was. At 20,000 square feet with seating for 700 patrons, it was arguably one of the biggest restaurants we have ever stepped foot in.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Like similar Italian restaurants such as Maggiano’s and Buca di Beppo, all of the dishes are family style and easily feed a table of six, if not more. Paper menus aren’t used, but instead, are found all over the walls inside Carmine’s.

We started the evening off with an order of fried calamari as well as fried zucchini. We still had enough time to make some New Years resolutions, so we might as well take advantage of the remaining hours of 2010!

Fried ZucchiniWhen the zucchini arrived, I could not believe my eyes. It was literally a mountain of zucchini standing at least eight inches tall. When we ordered it, we thought it would be more along the lines of fried zucchini spears rather than straws, but it was addictive nonetheless. I had to move the plate to the other side of the table so I could save some room for the rest of the meal.

The calamari was good but the restaurant should have provided a larger bowl of marinara sauce than the one the dish came with. Given the sheer size of the portion and the number of people sitting at the table, that appetizer is going to require a larger serving of marinara.

Of course, one cannot dine at a family style Italian restaurant and not order spaghetti and meatballs. Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best, and I thought the meatballs, which were the size of snowballs, were delicious. The rich, thick but not-too-thick tomato sauce made it that much better.

Meanwhile, the chicken parmesan was a bit of a disappointment. It wasn’t the chicken I necessarily had a problem with, but more with the cheese draped on top. It just had this very odd texture that detracted from the overall taste of this classic Italian dish. Surprising since it is such a simple recipe to begin with.

Fried CalamariSpinachChicken Parmesan

And as much as we love carbs and cheese, we also ordered a side of cooked spinach as a side item. If you are a fan of garlic, then you will love the spinach. It was definitely oily, but I guess that is to be expected.

Between all of the dishes, as well as some drinks and a bottle of wine, the damage was rather reasonable as each couple paid a little over $60 including tip. Not too shabby considering the mounds of food scattered all over the table.

Carmine's on Urbanspoon

Lunch Crush at Proof

7 Oct

If you’re looking for one of the greatest lunch deals in the entire DC metropolitan area, Proof is undoubtedly the way to go.

Rachel and I were figuring out places to go to for lunch last Friday, and we both wanted something that was upscale yet reasonably priced.  Proof was able to fulfill both of our requests thanks to their outstanding Lunch Crush special.

The deal is only available in the lounge area, but if you can grab a spot by the bar, you’re in for a real treat. Diners have a selection of six entrees in addition to a glass of red or white wine for, you ready, $12! It’s quite an exceptional value, especially when you compare the prices of the entrees alone as opposed to if you were to order them a la carte. Throw in a glass of their house wine and then it becomes a real steal.

Enjoying some wine at ProofI ordered the grilled garlic chicken and a glass of the red, an Argentinean Malbec which was very good considering it was only the house wine.  Then again, Proof doesn’t mess around with its vino to begin with, but it’s nice to see that they offer customers excellent selections even from their first tier of bottles.

Rachel opted for the shrimp burger, which came with jalapeno, shaved cucumber, cilantro, pickled daikon and carrots. She tried the house white, which turned out to be a sparkling wine and was very different, but in a good way.

We were definitely waiting a good amount of time for the food to arrive, especially considering the fact it was the lunch hour, but it didn’t bother us since we had the day off and were not necessarily in a rush. We looked at our watch a few times, but the wine we had was enjoyable while we waited nonetheless.

When our food arrived, the server had placed in front of me the sautéed potato gnocchi instead of the chicken. The server then came over and informed that he thought I had ordered the gnocchi, but when I corrected him in saying that I had asked for the chicken, he was very apologetic for the error and said he would have it immediately prepared if I liked.

Having read rave reviews about the gnocchi prior to visiting, I was open-minded about the situation and told the waiter not to worry about it and would have what was served instead. Because of the gaffe, the waiter offered Rachel and I another glass of wine compliments of the house, which was a very nice gesture. The waiter did ensure me that the gnocchi was one of his favorite dishes and that I would enjoy it.

Sautéed Potato Gnocchi

Well, he was right. It was perhaps the best gnocchi I had ever tasted. I guess I understood why our food took so long to arrive because of how it was meticulously prepared in the kitchen. The homemade dumplings practically melted in my mouth while the wild mushrooms were full of flavor and really added something to the dish as a whole. The serving was also very generous and well worth its normal price of $16.  The fact I was enjoying my meal for $4 less and a glass (or two) of wine exemplifies why Lunch Crush is such a true bargain.

While there weren’t any sides that came with Rachel’s dish, the shrimp burger itself was very filling, and again, hard to complain about with such a deal. The burger itself was made of all shrimp, almost like a seafood sausage, and was crispy on the outside. It was definitely a different taste, but the combination of the shrimp with the toppings made for an excellent bite. It also had some kick to it but the spice wasn’t too overpowering.

Proof Shrimp Burger

When the waiter dropped off our check and thanked us for coming, my jaw nearly hit the table when I read the bill. He not only did not charge us for the additional glasses of wine, but he also only billed us for just one of the Lunch Crush specials. In other words, our bill came out to $12 and tax.  I could not believe it. That, my friends, is how to run a restaurant and establish goodwill with your customers.

We left him a very generous tip and departed Proof with an abundance of satisfaction to say the least. Between the fantastic meal and an even better customer service, it was pretty much a perfect dining experience.

Proof on Urbanspoon