Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beef and Noodle Soup for the Soul

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a traveler in possession of a fortune in frequent flyer miles, must be in want of a good meal. C. is on her second visit to DC, and I wanted her to have something she couldn't get in her current field assignment in the Southern Hemisphere. Taking advantage of the overcast weather on Sunday, we walked across Key Bridge to get some Pho.

My former boss was born and raised in Vietnam; I survived the Boston winters thanks to its magical properties, and after 5 years in DC I am extremely picky. While the Eden Center has any of the DC offerings beat (4 Sisters, a restaurant after my own heart), I don't have a car, and favor places that are Metro-accessible. I gave Saigon Bistro on P a fighting chance, but found their Pho too watery. Vietnam Georgetown - that can't be called pho. If I learned anything from my former boss, is that the best pho comes from places that specialize in it. Pho is a very work-intensive soup, and it is hard to get the proportions right.

Pho 75 is as no-frills as they come. Located on a strip mall from Courthouse's less affluent days, the plain white walls display decades' worth of Washingtonian restaurant awards. The tables are long, rectangular, and shared. The place closes at 8 PM, and the host, who doubles as a server, will flag you to your seat, cab-style. If you go there during the lunch rush, expect a line (but don't worry, it moves fast). The menu is short on variety - pho with different toppings (flank, meatballs, round-eye steak, tripe, and others), some desserts, a selection of drinks (my favorite are the young coconut and the iced tea). The pho comes in two sizes, regular and large. As with other pho places, Pho 75 provides a beautiful plate of fixings - fresh jalapeno, basil, limes, and sprouts. The table has a sauce station with hoisin and sriracha hot sauce. My rule of thumb? As much of the hot sauce as I can stand (which is plenty). Well-prepared Pho is complex enough to not warrant my spice assaults, though I always add lime juice because the acidity balances out the pungency of the broth.

As far as dessert goes, Pho 75 does not have the advantage of its Eden Center counterparts with bakeries next door. Try Cafe Assorti across the street instead.

Since Pho requires chopsticks as well as a spoon, slurping is often necessary, and you're sitting right next to perfect strangers, it's a hard meal to have a conversation over. So consider the soup, enjoy the sounds of happy dining, and be very grateful for limes.

Pho 75 (Arlington) on Urbanspoon
Pho 75 (Arlington)
1721 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22209
(703) 525-7355

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Upon finding out that I am Mexican, most people ask me what my favorite Mexican restaurant is in DC. I always start with the disclaimer that there isn't a huge Mexican community in DC like there is in New York, Chicago or LA, and that some of the better places are outside of DC-proper. Truth is, I am lucky to go back home often enough, there are a lot of things (such as chilorio and cuitlacoche) you can bring in as cans, and the certain Safeway, H-Mart and Shoppers locations are well stocked enough for me to get my fix.

I made a list a few years ago that needs updating. I have heard very good things about the Taco cart out in Rosslyn. While we work on that, I would like to tackle the second most frequent question, what's my favorite tequila. Like all strong spirits, that's a question of personal preference. I enjoy my tequila straight, but will not do shots. You don't want to do that to good tequila, as it will negate any pleasure you may derive from its texture, body, and bouquet. You will not see Don Julio sponsoring body shot contests any time soon. Shooting tequila is something you do when you don't know better, or because you wish to forget that you do in order to get very drunk very soon. I sip tequila, and keep it in the freezer at home.

There are three types of tequila, blanco, reposado and añejo. Their colors, white, gold and slightly brown, make them very easy to distinquished. Añejo is aged in barrels, which gives it is distinct color. There are a lot of tequila primers out there.

My two favorite tequilas are Herradura Silver, a white tequila, and Don Julio Reposado. Don Julio is easier to get in the US. For margaritas, I will normally use Cazadores or Centenario. There are a lot of brands out there, and some, like Patron and Jose Cuervo, have huge marketing campaigns behind them. I like Patron, and the H Street Country Club does some interesting cocktails with it. For the price point, I prefer Don Julio. I do not care for Jose Cuervo, and seeing places that sell Margaritas labeled as "top shelf" that use it as their main tequila puts me in a bad mood. Tequila has become so popular that agave, the plant that it is made from, is becoming very expensive. Whatever tequila you buy, make sure that the label says 100% Agave. Anything else will have additives. If you go to places that have a good tequila selection, such as Oyamel, try brands that don't advertise as much. Put tequila in proper glassware (known as caballitos in Mexico or cordial glasses here) so you can smell it while you sip it. Riedel makes beautiful tequila stemware.

As for salt, I prefer sea salt because it has larger crystals and fresh limes if they are available. The lime is a good way of cleansing your tongue before having tequila (you can also have it after). In Berlin a few years ago I saw people drinking tequila with cinnamon and orange instead. It's not for me, but it says a lot about the flexibility of the drink.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

UNICEF's Tap Project - March 21

We are delighted to see that the Tap Project is back for World Water Week.

From March 21 through March 27, thousands of restaurants across the country will participate in this fantastic project from the US Fund for the United Nations Children's Fund. For one week, patrons will be asked to donate $1 for tap water when they dine out. The proceeds benefit UNICEF water and sanitation programs in Haiti, Central African Republic, Guatemala, Togo, and Vietnam. Every day, 4,100 children die of water-related diseases. Nearly 900 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water, and almost half of them are children. Each $1 raised through the Tap Project can provide a child with safe water for 40 days.

For more information, please visit the Tap Project's website. For the complete list of restaurants in DC, please click here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Good to be happy at any hour.

There is a new sushi joint in the area – Kushi Izakaya & Sushi - that opened earlier this month. Owned by husband and wife team, Darren Lee Norris and Ari Kushimoto Norris, Kushi is located at 465 K Street near yet another upcoming area of DC – Mt. Vernon Square. Kushi only proves that everything on Wikapedia is true: “Izakaya is a type of Japanese drinking establishment which also service food to accompany the drinks.” This establishment also includes a raw bar that offers oysters for $3/ea, cherry stone clams from Nova Scotia for $1/ea, and lobster cocktail from Maine. In addition to the raw bar and sushi, the menu offers other small plates that include duck sausage, chicken meatballs, fioe gras, and grilled Japanese squash. The ambiance is a perfect setting for a happy hour with an open urban friendly space. My ‘plus one,’ right away noticed the high vaulted ceilings and its converted loft look. The up front live action kitchen makes you feel like you are part of the action (or a reality show). There is plenty of room to walk around and there are three bars, one for sushi, drink, and food. Each offers a wide space with enough room for your sake, sushi and elbows as my ‘plus one’ quipped. The highlight of the evening was the hot sake on tap and pick your own mix and match sake glass. Kushi's address is: 465 K St NW, Washington, DC 20001, and can be reached at (202) 682-3123. Although it doesn’t look like it has been updated you can find out more information on their website.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dining Out for Life!

On March 11, 150 restaurants in the DC area will be supporting Dining Out for Life.

This is one of Food and Friend's many efforts to raise funds for providing daily, home-delivered, specialized meals, groceries and nutrition counseling to individuals in the community who are facing some of life's most difficult challenges. These critical services are provided at no cost to clients.

Contribute to a great cause and eat at many local favorites. Book your reservation here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Making Up for Lost Time...With Interest!

Feel like you have been trapped in the house forever? Between the record snows, the driving winds, and the lovely, lovely freezing rain, no surprise you are way behind on your tasty eats and tastier cocktails? Not to fear, DC restaurants, lounges, and bars miss you too, and this week they are offering great deals to help you make up for some of those lost happy hours and dinner's out.

First, The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (http://www.ramw.org/) is offering a diverse bunch of deals at over 100 restaurants on lunch, dinner, drinks, and the kitchen sink with Restaurants "Unleashed" Week ongoing through March 7. Highlights include a $38 3-course Alsatian feast at Cafe du Parc, $10 for a Margherita pizza and a glass of wine at happy hour, 19$ lunch/29$ dinner with wine specials at Sei and Oya, $40 Tuscan tasting menu--complete w/ Chianti at Potenza, 20% of your check or a free bottle of Prosecco at Urbana, and a 32$ chef's tasting menu at Zola.

Unleashed is also casting the spotlight on what appear to be some new ongoing deals including a new 4-6:30pm "Rush Hour" at Ris in the West End and Monday night three- course, prix-fixe at Ceiba, Acadiana and their siblings with run of just about all their offerings.

Looking for a pre- or post-dinner cocktail? Yelp is bringing us Yelp Drinks, also through March 7, featuring half price specialty drinks at a raft of nifty cocktail spots. Good from open until close, everyday through Sunday, grab a blueberry caprioska at Bens Next Door, half price Sangria pitchers at Hudson, Whiskey Rebellion at Policy, Alisar at CoCoSala. I don't actually know what that last one is--but I will. These and several other moderately-to-seriously-fab destinations are each offering three (or more) choices on what are ordinarily some pretty pricy cocktails. So drink up--how many Saturday nights behind are you? Cheers!

Restaurants Unleashed Week: http://www.ramw.org/pdf/Unleashed%20Database.pdf
Yelp Drinks: http://www.yelp.com/events/washington-yelp-drinks-week