Hong Kong Palace: still the best

Of course my favorite kind of Asian food is Vietnamese (not biased or anything), but everything now and then I have a deep craving for authentic Chinese food. And when that hits, I get into my trusty beige Toyota Camry (is it obvious to you by this second sentence that I’m Asian American yet?) and head out of the city to Seven Corners, Fall Church. Just around the corner from the world’s most insanely confusing intersection, you can find my favorite Chinese restaurant in the DMV: Hong Kong Palace. Note: Despite the name, this Chinese restaurant serves mostly Szechuan dishes.

While I have never been disappointed by any order here, I have 2 go-to favorite dishes:

Chengdu Spicy Cold Noodles

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I always get the spicy cold noodles when I come. Sometimes I also get one order to-go as well. It looks like such an ordinary dish, but once you mix the perfectly al dente egg noodles, the crunchy bean sprouts, sesame seeds and the INCREDIBLE spicy sauce, this dish explodes with flavor and texture.

Beef and Beef tendon with Szechuan sauce

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Have I totally convinced you with this incredibly artistic and flattering image of a dish made of chewy body parts you don’t normally want to imagine chomping down on? I came to Hong Kong Palace one winter afternoon a few years ago to meet up with my cousins. My cousin Linda insisted on ordering this dish, and I tried to hide my reluctance. But once it arrived, I was converted. The cold salty meat, and the spicy peppercorn sauce are the perfect combination. The tendon is slightly crunchy, and just the right amount of chewy. Please order this dish. And if you don’t like it, I don’t feel that bad because it’s literally only $8.95.

 

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Winter 2015 Restaurant Week Recs

It is that time of year again! As I tell myself that I need to crack down after the holidays and attempt to incorporate healthier eating habits, Winter Restaurant Week arrives.

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This year, it runs between January 25-31, with 3-course lunches going for $22 and dinners going for $35. The list of participating restaurants is long, so it is important to pick your spots carefully! After all, you don’t want to start off 2016 wasting your time on bad food. So I would recommend staying away from places that, in general, do not have very expensive entrees (for example, Circa’s dinner plates run between $13-$23) because you are not really saving much money, while at the same time having to deal with RW crowds and less-than-enthused servers. Some places also already offer pre-theater menus, such as Central Michel Richard or NoPa for the same price through out the year, so you do not have to try to squeeze these into the week. I like either trying out new restaurants I would not normally go out of my way to head to, or restaurants with typically pricier menus where I would be scoring a good deal at. Some recommendations from this year’s list:

  • Casa Luca: Fabio Trabbochi’s “casual” Italian restaurant is located about 2 blocks from my apartment and I have yet to have a disappointing meal there. They are offering both lunch and dinner RW deals, which is a great deal here since “casual” in Fabio’s eyes apparently means $24 appetizers and $34 entrees. They do not have their Restaurant Week menus up yet, perhaps check back closer to the start.
  • China Chilcano: Jose Andres’ newest spot, located in Penn Quarter, has gotten a lot of praise since it opened last winter. I have not yet eaten at the Peruvian restaurant, but A, who I trust implicitly when it comes to all things related to eating, approves. So that must mean I approve of it as well! China Chilcano is offering lunch and dinner RW deals, but the menu has not been posted.
  • Del Campo: I made a dinner reservation here this time, since our lunch reservations last summer were a bust. I have only been to this South American restaurant for happy hour, and everything we ordered was fantastic. It is definitely on the pricier side and I look forward to trying the grilled meats offered on the RW menu. Note: if you cannot make it here for RW, try the Happy Hour at the bar for some great deals on small plates.
  • Fiola Mare: I also made a Winter RW reservation at Fabio Trabbochi’s seafood focused restaurant on the Georgetown Waterfront. I have not eaten here yet, and feel slightly left out since every single person seems to love this spot. As Tom Sietsema put it, this is “the city’s most sumptuous spot for seafood.” Well damn son, sign me up. Note: They are only doing lunch for RW, and I am praying that their burrata is included as one of the options.
  • Mintwood Place: I know, I sound like a broken record because I suggested them for Summer Restaurant Week, but I will continue to promote them because I just think it continues to be one of the best options. They include a large portion of their regular menu (the burrata and steak tartare appetizers are my favorite, and I have never tried an entree there I did not love). The restaurant is just so warm and inviting, perfect for keeping you warm on a cold winter night.
  • Nonna’s Kitchen: I came here during Summer RW with A, and thought it was just a great deal. It is a very small, intimate setting, with beautiful red painted walls and a warm, open kitchen. Not only was the food fantastic, RW provides a fantastic opportunity to try a restaurant that usually only offers pre-fix menus starting at $75.

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  • Pinea: The restaurant that replaced J&G Steakhouse at the W Hotel is a stunning beautiful spot with bright blue walls (and giant murals), high ceilings and a sophisticated vibe that surprisingly has no touch of pretentiousness. I went for Winter RW last year, and thought it was definitely worth it. They offered their entire regular menu, and I absolutely loved everything we ordered (the menu has changed significantly since then so there’s no point in me listing it out). Entrees typically run between $25-$36, and they will hopefully offer a wide selection this time as well for RW.
  • Riggsby: This is a fairly new spot from Michael Schlow (from Tico on 14th street) and has garnered a lot of praise in its first few months. With its retro design and menu, food critics seem to enjoy the “familiar and fresh food” offered. Entrees run around thirty bucks, so RW would be a good deal (assuming they are not just offering pasta) for three courses.
  • Sushi Taro: Yes, the broken record is playing the same song again. I came here twice for Restaurant Week already, and if I hadn’t spent all my money on Black Friday and post-Christmas shopping, I would not mind coming back for for yet another RW dinner. Sushi Taro’s food is just incredible. The sushi is so fresh and flavorful, perhaps one of the best places in the city for this.

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Hopefully 2016 will start out with some amazing meals for everyone!

 

Return to Bad Saint

*Full disclosure: I wrote this three months ago but was too lazy to finish and post it. New year…. new me?

After my date at Bad Saint, I spent a lot of time thinking about the food there and less time thinking about the company from that evening. So that seemed like the great place to celebrate my three year anniversary with my current roommate, Jason. Three years is a long time to be living with someone, and it is an especially long time to be living with a secret roommate that my parents know nothing about, so this seemed like an extra special milestone to celebrate. Also, Jason happens to be the most unemotional human being I have ever come across (I mean, research agrees with me here <– this is a joke, Jason is not dead inside), while I am definitely exceedingly high on the emotional spectrum, so I just like to have any excuse to be super sentimental around him.

I did the same thing as my first trip to Bad Saint: I ran up the hill to Columbia Heights during my evening work out and dropped by the restaurant around 5:45pm. Genevieve, the beautiful and gracious host, took my information and said she estimated around a 7/7:30pm seating. Since Jason is not really into “feelings” (his facial expressions are a mix between horror and anxiety when I cry over a guy to him), I thought it would be a wonderful touch if I handmade some sweet, loving signs to decorate our dishes. I handed them to Genevieve, who also knows Jason, and she agreed these would be a nice touch for our romantic anniversary meal together.

The two roomies headed back to Bad Saint around 7:15pm, hopping off of the bus just as I got the text from Bad Saint notifying us that our table was ready. We were seated at the back counter and very quickly sent our order to the waiter since we were both starving. To start, the kitchen sent us some house-made shrimp crackers. These were light and airy, just like the shrimp crackers we used to eat growing up. I love the crackling in my mouth, and the feeling of my tongue sticking to the chip as the air is released (eat one and you’ll know what I am talking about!). Our first order was the Ginisang Ampalaya: bitter melon, preserved black bean and farm egg. Like I said when I first experienced Bad Saint during their pop-up last winter, I usually do not like bitter melon, but the dish here makes me want to start a fan club for the vegetable.

Next up was the Inihaw na panga ng tambakol: the tuna jaw dish that was out the first time I ate at Bad Saint. The grilled fish is incredibly moist, tender and fatty. I loved the salt served alongside of the dish, although my blood pressure levels probably did not appreciate it as much.

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Of course, we had to order the Tapa, especially since I had fantasized about it an inappropriate amount since the last time I was there. I could smell the garlic rice well before the plate hit the counter, and my heart started racing in anticipation. It was every bit as incredible as the first time.

We also ordered the Pancit bihon guisado: a heaping plate of sauteed rice noodles, wood ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, and squash. The tender, thin noodles, the creamy mushrooms and the crispy vegetables made it an incredibly filling dish. The best part of this though, was the arrival of the sappy anniversary signs. I burst into laughter, looked over at Jason who was also laughing (that’s right, folks, he was EMOTING) and took out his phone to snap a picture. I MADE HIM FEEL SOMETHING. Even without the amazing food, this meal was already a win.

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After we cleared our entrees, I was feeling pretty stuffed, but Jason insisted that we order the bilo bilo. I don’t have to persuaded too hard when it comes to dessert so that was fine with me. The purple rice in coconut cream is topped with puffed rice crisps, and so rich and satisfying. After a couple of bites I was completed stuffed and threw in the towel. At that moment, our wonderful server presented us with a dish of caramelized rice cakes from the kitchen. It was such a sweet gesture, but I could manage one tiny bite of the delicious coconut flavored cake before I was convinced my stomach was going to explode.

Overall, this was another fantastic meal that made me 100% sure that my amazing first experience there was no fluke. I found the restaurant as charming and beautiful as the first time, and look forward to my next visit back (hopefully after my sodium levels have decreased slightly).

Bad Saint…… bad date?

 

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After going to the Bad Saint pop up last winter, I’ve been following the restaurant’s opening details closely. They had a few delays, but finally opened in mid-September in Columbia Heights (next door to Room 11). This spot is the brainchild of Nick Pimentel and Genevieve Villamora of Room 11, with chef Tom Cunanan from Ardeo + Bardeo running the kitchen. Serving Filipino food, the restaurant aims to “honor the flavors of those mom-and-pop shops while filtering them through the lens of modern, chef-driven technique.” Basically, comfort food in hipster form.

Calvin, the first (and only) guy I have met through Bumble, asked if I would be up for a second date. Our first date, which consisted of drinks and snacks at 2Birds, was perfectly fine. Being half Vietnamese, he and I had a lot of common, and I found him incredibly smart and attractive…. but I did not feel much of a physical spark. I also had been spending more time with Tinder Will, so I just was not sure if it was even worth throwing someone else into the mix. However, Calvin suggested trying Bad Saint for our second date… and since that was at the top of my current list, I figured, why not spend a Friday night with this guy especially when he’s equally excited about a restaurant? Food is the way to my heart, after all.

Calvin suggested meeting at 8pm on a Friday and after hearing about the wait times people have experienced at Bad Saint during the first few weeks, I figured maybe I should look into putting our names down early. Although I dislike the no-reservation policy that more and more restaurants in DC are adapting, Bad Saint is at least within walking distance to my apartment and makes the whole thing slightly more convenient. Around 5:30pm, I headed on my usual running route up 11th street towards Columbia Heights and swung by Bad Saint. Well, thank goodness, because Genevieve informed me that we would probably be looking at a 8:30-9pm seating time. I texted Calvin to let him know and he suggested meeting at Room 11 first while waiting for our table.

We grabbed a drink at the back bar, where Calvin let me know he had recently suffered a concussion when a woman rear-ended him earlier that week. Okay, great start to a second date! After ordering a Manhattan (for me) and a Grey Goose & soda (for him), we chatted and our conversation flowed relatively easily despite one member of the party potentially suffering from neurological damage. Observation: Calvin reminds of Dev Patel’s charater Neal Sampat, from Newsroom, in the most adorable way possible. He’s pretty nerdy, talking about engineering papers, all while wearing a tailored crisp button-up and some skinny jeans. After about thirty minutes, I got a text message from Bad Saint that made my heart break, followed by this hilarious exchange:

 

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We headed right next door to Bad Saint, where the most incredible smells welcomed us, along with a laughing Genevieve who apologized for accidentally sending us the wrong text. The space where Bad Saint currently resides used to be a small beauty salon, but is now a cozy restaurant/open kitchen. Seating is definitely limited (leading to the crazy wait times) with only two actual tables, and rest of the restaurant seating located along counter space. Note: they only take parties up to four guests. Even though the space is tiny, the open kitchen, high ceilings, bright decor, and heavenly scents wafting from the kitchen make the space seem intimate and warm, instead of claustrophobic. We were seated at the back counter, and eagerly perused through the menu before putting our order with the very attentive and knowledgeable waitress.

First was the Ensaladang pipino, a lettuce tomato and onion salad that was light, fresh, but generally unremarkable. Next up came the Ginisang Tulya: a bowl of littleneck clams, Chinese sausage, Sichuan chile in an incredibly fragrant broth and served with sticky rice. This soothing, comfort dish was Calvin’s favorite dish of the night. Our third dish was the whole fried branzino, something I had not considered ordering, but since they were out of the tuna jaw for the evening, our waitress recommended this. This plate deserved all the adjectives: crispy, juicy, meaty, fresh, wonderful.  It was served with a light vinagrette and more sticky rice. After we dug out the tender and flavorful meat from the body, Calvin tore into the fish head. Well, that is not something I see often, or ever, on a second date, and it was hot. So this is why Asians date Asians.

The last savory entree was my absolute favorite plate of the evening: the tapa. I could smell this dish coming towards us, and it made me feels things that could be considered inappropriate in a public setting. This plate consisted of air-dried beef and a poached duck egg over garlic, rice, tomatoes, and onions. The egg was poached to absolute perfection. I wish I could make a slo-mo video of popping this egg to unleash the yolk all over the garlic rice. Actually, it was not just the egg that was perfect; every single thing about this dish was complete perfection. The insanely garlicky rice, the sharp, tangy onions, the chewy beef, the creamy yolk all mixed together to create a perfect harmony in my mouth.

We decided to get dessert even though we both agreed our stomachs were not very pleased with the amount of food we shoveled in. Bad Saint has one dessert: Bilo Bilo, so we asked for one order.  The warm purple rice in a coconut cream contained sweet peaches, and was the perfect way to end the meal. The dessert was pillowy soft, slightly chewy, and like almost all of our previous dishes at Bad Saint, a kind of comforting that makes your heart full and your stomach warm (and vice versa). I am going to fantasize about this dish on a cold night. Overall, our dinner was stylish, creative, and DELICIOUS in an unpretentious, fun setting.

Now in terms of the actual date, it seemed like our conversation continued to flow as easily as the egg yolk in the tapa. We discussed our favorite past meals, our grad school programs and continued to talk as the plates were cleared away. Background information: Bad Saint is located approximately 6 blocks away from Calvin’s home, which he told me on our first date that he basically gutted, re-designed and renovated. OF COURSE, I was dying to see it. I mean, of course. First, I just like seeing a guy’s place. Second, I am very interested in the state of his bathroom. Let’s be real here. It is important to understand the hygiene of a potential partner/hook up/boyfriend/whatever. Because if your bathroom is disgusting, no body parts of yours are going anywhere near my mouth. And then in case, I also just wanted to see the result of this guy’s project. So as we walked out, I assumed he would 1) ask me if I wanted to get a drink somewhere else or 2) Invite me back to his place for a drink or 3) At least wait for me to get a cab if I rejected those offers. Instead, Calvin quickly hugged me and immediately started turning north in the general direction of his house, away from me. I asked him, “Are you heading that way?” And when he said, “yes, which way are you going?” I decided to just go for it and responded “I am going that way, unless you plan to invite me over to your place.”

Well, apparently that worked because he stopped and asked me, “……….. do you want to come over to my place?” Yes, Calvin, yes I would. I suppose that could come off as slightly aggressive, but whatever. We were close and I wanted to do some investigating, dammit. Once we got to his place, I was not disappointed. It was a beautiful house. Also, the bathroom was clean. After a tour and a glass of water, we hung out on his couch for a bit before the itis hit me and I literally could barely keep my eyes open. I could feel my eyes getting heavier and heavier, so I said it was getting late and I would be calling an uber. In an attempt to mask my increasingly overwhelming exhaustion, I tried to make sure I extra engaged in the conversation which probably meant I was babbling away without even really thinking about what was coming out of my mouth. Calvin turned to me (while we were waiting for the uber to arrive) and blurted out, “Can you just stop talking for one minute so we can kiss?” It seemed so abrupt that I didn’t know how to respond so I shut up and stared at him in shock as he leaned in and kissed me. It seemed like a pretty good kiss, until we were interrupted by the sound of my phone telling me my uber driver was outside. I pulled away, and this is where things got a little odd. Calvin stood up and hugged me…. but then just continued to stand there as I walked to the door where my shoes were. As I slipped on my boots, he just stood there, and I opened his front door (fumbling because well, this isn’t my house) and walked into the dark knight as he just continued to stand in his living room. And Spring Rd at midnight on a Friday night is basically a secluded road pitch blackness in what I would consider not DC’s most safe neighborhood. Thankfully, my uber was right outside and I managed to get in without any incident but as I slid into the Toyota (because of course the uber is a toyota) I was a little perturbed. I’m definitely not expecting a knight in shining armor, but I would at least like a guy to open the door of his own house to let me out. Definitely not the ideal ending to a date.

 

A fake 3 year anniversary at Sally’s Middle Name

Three years ago, I made the adult move of transitioning out of Arlington into DC. I found a wonderful spot in a two bedroom apartment by Logan Circle, but the only issue was that my roommate was going to be a (fantastic) man. My parents are what you might refer to as….. conservative and would have strongly disapproved of my cohabitation with a person of the opposite sex, even if we have a 100% platonic relationship. So I did the completely rational thing: I completely panicked and told them I was living with my good (female) friend A. Three years later, my parents still believe I live with A and I have to frantically hide certain items (his jackets, shoes and giant whiskey collection). Yes yes yes, I am aware that I have put myself into this complicated situation, but it is pretty funny and makes a fantastic date story.

For most of September, A was travelling. After a wedding in Italy, another wedding in NYC, and a work trip to India, she was back just in time for us to celebrate our fake three year roommate anniversary! Basically, give me a reason to eat out and I will take it. We decided to try Sally’s Middle Name on H st NE, which has gotten great reviews from both food critics/bloggers and friends. Sally’s opened in June, and is named in honor of chef and co-owner Sam Adkin’s sister. While he has an impressive middle name, Ulysses, Sally was given no middle name and he promised her that he would name his first restaurant after her (okay everyone in unison now: awwwwww).

I headed to H street straight from work, and got there shortly after 6pm. The restaurant does not take reservations and I was surprised to see it completely empty of diners. It is an extremely clean space with white tile, and simple, uncomplicated decor. I decided to sit at the bar, which looks into the open kitchen, and wait for A. While I sat, I went through the roster of seasonal small plates listed on the blackboard, instead of on paper menus.

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Sally’s states they are sourcing from local farms, and the constantly changing menu reflects that they are focusing on seasonal ingredients. Everything sounded delicious, and I made a mental list of my favorite options while I waited for A. Unfortunately, due to the inability of DMV drivers to function in the rain, A’s cab barely inched through downtown DC for an hour and she could not get to H street until almost 6:40pm. I am pretty sure as I sat in the empty restaurant by myself, the staff was convinced I was being stood up as I kept repeating to the bartender, “I’ll just wait a few more minutes until my friend gets here!”

Thankfully, A was still in good spirits when she arrived and, more importantly, starving and ready to eat. She quickly glanced over at the menu, and we put in an order of the the Crab and Corn Imperial and the Sautéed Scallops with brown butter and parsley. The creamy crab and corn dish was buttery and comforting, perfect for a windy, fall evening and the sweet scallops were perfectly cooked in a warm butter sauce with herb undertones. Both of these dishes were delicious. But I did think the $15 price tag for the three relatively small scallops seemed a little too high.

Next came the Roasted Amish Pumpkin, which was covered in buttermilk dressing and topped with pickled rhubard. The two slices of pumpkin were creamy (made even creamier by the buttermilk sauce), slightly smokey, and very interesting.

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The Braised Rabbit Leg with madeira cream sauce arrived a few minutes later. The tender meat pretty much feel off of the bone, making it easier to share. Again, this was overall a great dish, but $13 for one leg seemed overpriced. At this point, we decided we definitely need to order a couple more dishes to fill us up adequately. This gave us the chance to try the Cavatelli with Rabbit Ragu. The pasta was al dente (the way I prefer it), with a rich, comforting sauce made of shredded rabbit. Our final savory order of the night was the Marinated Ember Roasted Eggplant with sea salt and cilantro. We were surprised (not in a bad way) that this was a cold dish, but liked the delightfully oily and salty vegetables.

For dessert, since we were still that full, we ordered both options: the Beignets with blackberry jelly, and the Chocolate semi-fredo. The  light beignets were fantastic, but I found the semi-fredo a little too icy/watery and not very flavorful.

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When the bill came, we realized that (as the blackboard specifies), an 18 percent “service charge” will be automatically added to every check. This money will be split evenly between front and back of the house employees. It was a little strange not adding more money before signing my name, but took away the added complication of doing any math and splitting the check.

While I appreciate that Sally’s serves very good, straightforward comfort food, it definitely was over-priced. You are served what appears like small fistfuls of food. Yes, it is thoughtful, interesting food, but it is hard to appreciate when you’re literally paying $5 per scallop and you leave dinner still feeling unsatisfied despite paying almost $60 (without drinks) per person. Despite that complaint, I enjoyed the relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere and of course, the company.

Thip Khao: a lot of heat for a Friday night

It was a beautiful Friday night in the District, and I was at my friend/ex bf’s place on 14th street when we realized we truly had a #firstworldproblem. We were hungry, it was time for dinner, but it seemed like every good restaurant within walking distance would probably have a wait because our neighborhoods are just too damn popular. Room 11 is the only place on 11th in Columbia Heights Ben was willing to eat at but we knew there would be a wait, going south on 14th street during the weekend just means battling crowds of yuppies, and we were not in the mood for cheap Mexican food in Mount Pleasant. Then I remembered Thip Khao! This Laotioan restaurant opened at the end of last year on the first floor of the Allegro apartment building in Columbia Heights, and is Chef Seng Luangrath’s second restaurant in the DMV. While I had yet to visit either spot, my parents have consistently praised Bangkok Golden in Falls Church, and Bon Appetit just named Thip Khao one of the best new restaurants of 2015. The Washington City Paper had a wonderful write-up explaining Chef Seng’s background and I have been excited to have another authentic Southeast Asian restaurant in my city!

When we arrived around 8:30pm, it was crowded and the hostess let us know it would be about a 45 minute for a table for two. We decided to hang out at the bar while we waited, and it gave me a few minutes to look around and appreciate the warm atmosphere and beautiful decor. About 10 minutes later, a couple got up from the corner of the bar so we quickly snagged those seats. Once we sat down, we took a look at the menu, which is separated into a regular menu and a traditional Lao menu titled “Let’s Go to the Jungle!!” I suppose “traditional” also could mean “exotic” since alligator, snakehead fish, and blood sausage were some of the listed ingredients, but the word “exotic” just always reminds of some weird compliment a white guy tries to give Asian girls without realizing he’s being racist (wow, Tinder has really made me cynical).

To start, we ordered the raved-about the crispy rice salad (Naem Khao), which A (fake roomie) has insisted I have to try, as well as every single restaurant review I have read. This appetizer came out quickly (or as Tom Sietsema says, “speed date fast”), and served with fresh, crispy lettuce leaves to make wraps. The crunchy rice, pickled pork ham and peanuts were flavored with coconut, lime scallions, hot peppers, and cilantro, Ben’s worst enemy. After two and a half years of dating, I have realized that just the sight of these green leaves is enough to change my hilarious friend into a whiny, pouty man-child. However, he did not seem to mind the cilantro here, since the other ingredients have such powerful flavors. This dish was perfect mix of sweet, slightly sour (from the ham), and savory. The crunchy texture of the rice and peanuts was amazing.

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For our main courses, I had my heart set on the Laab Pah Kaw (minced crispy snakehead fish), but the bartender let me know they were completely out of snakehead fish. Now it was my turn to turn into a pouty child, but then I saw that they had a crispy minced alligator dish (Laab E’Kae) listed on the “Let’s Go to the Jungle!!” menu. We also ordered the Muu Som, a braised cured pork belly dish. These two entrees arrived with balls of sticky rice, delivered to the table in adorable bamboo baskets. It was not until I was googling about Lao food that I realized the restaurant is named after these baskets. From the Thip Khao website:

“Sticky rice is an integral part of daily life in Laos.  One batch is steamed in the morning and another at night, typically, is eaten intermittently as  snacked upon or used in accompanying meals throughout the day. After sticky rice is cooked, it’s placed on a flat surface and a wooden paddle is used to press the steam out. Then, it is placed in a large woven bamboo basket called a “thip khao.” The thip khao is regarded as a communal vessel. Family and guests are welcome to remove its lid,and help themselves. In Lao culture sticky rice is the staple to every meal that complements the main dishes. In order to eat the sticky rice, traditionally you form it into a ball, and pair that with a bite from the other dishes.”

The laab e’kae was extremely spicy, the kind of make-you-sweat, deep heat. Ben, due to his health issues, cannot no longer stomach super spicy food, and I felt bad that he could only handle a couple of bites of this dish because this was my absolutely favorite thing that we ordered that evening. The salty meat, green mango, toasted rice, mint made every bite bursting with sensational flavors. Luckily, Ben loved the pork belly, which was cooked with red bell peppers, shimeji mushrooms, onions, ginger and kaffir lime leaves. The meat was a little too fatty for my taste, but I loved the sauce and the vegetables. Of course, our dishes was eaten with the slightly sweet sticky rice. What I loved about the food here is the intensity of the flavors. I can clearly taste the pungency, the heat, the sweetness, the saltiness of every single bite. The boldness in the cooking here is the kind of cooking that hits your senses, wakes up your taste buds and makes you sit up a little straighter.

To cool down after our amazing meal, we decided to skip out on the traditional Lao desserts and opted for frozen yogurt on our walk back down 14th street instead. Understandably, I definitely had a small stomachache by the time I got back to my apartment, but that has not deterred me from declaring that I absolutely have to return to Thip Khao to make my way through more of their incredible “exotic” dishes.

 

A rainy Monday at Lupo Verde

In college, I quit the University’s cross country and track team my sophomore year. Then I went and joined a sorority, which horrified my parents who could not believe their hard-working first generation Asian-American daughter would now be a sorority girl. In their minds, it was almost the equivalent of dropping out of college and becoming one of those women selling their bodies on K street at 6am (note: these are very friendly ladies who wave to me during my morning runs now). Shockingly, I managed to make it through three years of Greek life just fine, and left with a group of the most wonderful friends. One of these friends is my incredible big sister, Kerry. She is one of the sweetest, kindest and smartest people I have ever encountered, and I sincerely hope she is a friend I will be privileged enough to have throughout my whole life. After living in Arlington for years, then heading to North Carolina for business school, Kerry and her boyfriend finally moved to the District over the summer which has just made my life 100x better. For her 29th birthday, since her boyfriend was going to be out of town for work, her sister and I decided to take her out to dinner.

I suggested Lupo Verde, a Southern Italian restaurant located on 14th street that neither Kerry nor Kristine had tried yet. I first tried Lupo Verde when it opened last year, and while I thought it was decent, did not find it memorable enough to compete with the other Italian restaurants on 14th (Etto, Ghibellina). But when I returned in May with TBM for dinner on their outdoor patio, we both thought the meal was fantastic. I was excited to go back and see if it lived up to the high standards set by my second dinner there.

It ended up being a slightly cold (first one of the fall), rainy Monday evening, perfect for a night of wine and comforting carbs. I arrived before Kerry and her sister, so I sat at the bar and ordered a Lupo Alberto (rye, fennel liquer, fennel bitters, tonic). It was a light whiskey drink, slightly watery but easy to go down. While reading yelp reviews earlier that day, I laughed because several people specifically made a point of mentioning the hot bartenders. Ruth C said, “The bartender was so fine that I blushed and nearly tripped over a barstool, so it’s a good thing we opted to dine on the patio where I could retain some semblance of wit.” Kimberly S noted in her review, “There have been whisperings that Lupo Verde is home to the hottest bartenders in town. Being the skeptic I am, I had to check it out for myself and I would like to happily report that yes,the barkeeps here do look like they all walked out of a Ferrari ad.” First of all, “whisperings?” Who is whispering? What else are they whispering about??? I want in on the DC whispers! Is there a newsletter I can sign up for? Second, this was now my third time to Lupo Verde, and while I have no complaints about the bar staff, I either have different taste than the whisperers, or I have not been lucky enough to be in the presence of these “hottest bartenders in town.” I failed to trip over any barstools, and this is coming from the most uncoordinated, graceless runner you will ever encounter.

The birthday girl and sister got there a few minutes later, and the hostess seated us at a communal table by the front of the restaurant. While I do like the cozy atmosphere of Lupo Verde, I need to remember that in the future I should note or request a non-communal table because they are pretty small and it can feel extremely tight if you end up at a table with a couple trying to make it a romantic evening. This time we were lucky enough to be at a table with two other women who ended their meal shortly after we sat down.

Our wonderful (and authentically Italian) server started us off with the incredible focaccia bread, which we dipped into their smooth olive oil. We decided to get a meat and cheese board, and left it up to our waiter to put together our selection of two cheeses and one meat. I love the selection here, which is not surprising since the restaurant has its own cheese shop on the first floor. The presentation of the platter is incredible. These trays are labeled (greatly appreciated), and served with fresh figs, apricots, grapes, nuts, thick slices of bread and crispy bread sticks. Jam and honey are included, and it is easy to go crazy before your first appetizer even arrives.

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I always get the Carciofi alla Giudea as an appetizer, and after pushing my rave reviews on Kerry and Kristine, this time was no different. These artichokes are fried to perfection, and served with a tangy green sauce that tastes faintly like anchovies (so I am obviously a fan). The crispy vegetables and the tart sauce are a great combination. We also ordered the Capasante Scottate. The seared scallops were perfectly cooked, and the artichoke cream sauce was brightened by the lemon zest.

We were starting to fill up after these dishes, but I was looking forward to our two shared entrees, especially the Agnello Stufato Non Stufato. As soon as I saw that they had pulled seared lamb, my heart fluttered. Kerry and Kristine were also eager to try this dish, and luckily it did not disappoint. The lamb was so incredibly tender, and fell apart as soon as the fork pierced it. The white asparagus was sliced so that it resembled al dente noodles and the grilled, slightly smokey, cherry tomatoes seemed impossibly plump and juicy. We also ordered the Orichiette (small round pasta) dish, which included their housemade pasta, along with housemade sausage, tomatoes and Barilotto di Bufala (buffalo milk ricotta). The hearty pasta dish was rich, warm, flavorful (although my heart was definitely rolling around the plate with the seared lamb). We all agreed that every thing we had ordered was a hit.

Our friendly and knowledgeable waiter returned to our table with a beautiful tiramisu, topped with a candle for Kerry. It was an incredibly thoughtful touch, and even though we were stuffed, we dug into the creamy and delicious dessert. This definitely was a perfectly sweet note to end a fantastic birthday dinner. Such a wonderful friend deserves to be celebrated, and I’m glad we picked Lupo Verde for such an impressive meal.