Restaurant Week Review: Del Campo lunch (oh wait, NOT)

I wanted to do at least one Restaurant Week lunch this summer, but was limited to spots that were open for lunch/brunch on the weekend. Del Campo was listed on the Restaurant Week website as offering lunch, and their menu look fantastic (why hellloooooo prime rib) so after shooting an email out to see who would be available, I made a reservation online for three people. The morning of our reservation, the Del Campo hostess called to confirm my reservation, before letting me know that they would be offering neither their standard bottomless, all-you-can-eat brunch (for $45), OR the Restaurant Week menu (three courses for $22). Instead, they would only be offering their a la carte menu. This was disappointing and unexpected, so I cancelled our reservation.

After browsing through the RW list, A and I could not find anything that stood out to us. I knew I would be starving and ready to EAT after my long run though, but I also knew I would want something satisfying and not too pricey. The obvious answer to this was Eden Center. A and Nina of course were on board (um, what kind of sociopath would turn down Vietnamese food?), so after sweating out all the alcohol in my system from the previous night, I loaded up my trusty Camry with two other hungry girls and we headed across the river to Falls Church. On the way there, I informed Nina, who was a newbie to A and my Eden Center adventures, that the following things would be occurring (no negotiations allowed):

  1. Rice Paper or bust.
  2. We would be ordering quail as an appetizer.
  3. We will order too much food.
  4. We will digest the mountain of food consumed by walking around the international grocery store afterwards.

After parking in the back lot of the shopping center, we discovered that there was apparently some kind of karaoke event going on along the sidewalk. This is my father’s absolute worst nightmare, and I could only imagine what he would have said had he witnessed the people screaming along to Vietnamese music as everyone tried to enjoy their Sunday lunches. I’m not sure if the restaurants were busier because people were crowding Eden Center waiting for their turn on the mic, or if the restaurants were more packed because people were trying to escape the singing outside. We put our names down for Rice Paper and were told that it would be approximately a 20 minute wait, which was the perfect amount of time to grab bubble tea and do a short walk (in the opposite direction of the singing).

I put in the order for quail as soon as we were seated at Rice Paper, before opening the menus, and it arrived shortly afterwards. Vietnamese quail is just amazing, and one of my favorite dishes. As usual, the crispy roasted quail was juicy, perfectly seasoned, and exactly what my body needed after the run (sodium? check. protein? check. extra sodium from the salt, pepper and lime dipping sauce? okay maybe unnecessary but still, check). I mean, just look at that skin. I imagine this is how 12 year old boys feel when they see supermodels baring skin in tiny bikinis.

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For our second starter, we went with the Gỏi Hải Sản (salad of pineapple, carrots, onions, lemongrass, roasted peanuts, shrimp, calamari, and scallops over lettuce and tomatoes). This was the first time I have ordered this dish at Rice Paper, and it did not disappoint. The generous seafood toppings, and sweet fruit mixed together were a fantastic light shared dish. For our main dishes, we actually all ordered the same thing: the Rice Paper Combo Platter (which came with grilled squid and scallops, grilled pork, and grilled beef wrapped in grape leaves). This came with vegetables, noodles and dried rice paper.

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Everything on this plate was great, and there was bit of everything I could want to eat. I had fun teaching N how to dip the rice paper in the water to make little rolls (spreading the gospel wherever I go, folks), and she was making her little Vietnamese burritos like a pro in no time. All three of us agreed that the dish hit the spot. The seafood was cooked perfectly (nothing was too chewy), the pork and beef were smoky, tender, and satisfying. I ate until my stomach hurt, and yet there was still more food on my plate. I ended up taking about a third of the food home, which made for the best lunch the next day although the office microwave may have smelled like fish sauce for a few minutes afterwards.

After we pushed our bodies to the limit (in terms of eating, not in terms of any productive physical activity), we headed over to the Asian grocery and picked up necessary supplies like dried anchovies, quail eggs, chili oil and dragonfruit. It was little tough to push the cart when my stomach was telling me that I needed to be horizontal, but it probably did help to move around at least a little. It was another productive Sunday at Eden Center, the highlight being the delectable food at Rice Paper. Thanks Eden Center for salvaging our weekend after discovering that Del Campo did not want to cooperate with our Sunday food goals.

Summer 2015 DC Restaurant Week recs

The end of summer is quickly approaching (WHAT? Did July not even occur?), which means it is almost time for DC Restaurant Week. This year, Restaurant Week falls between August 17-August 23. A list of the participating restaurants can be found here. While each year, more people complain about the downsides of Restaurant Week, I still believe if you pick well, you can eat some great meals at a much cheaper price ($35.15). Some of my picks for Restaurant Week this time around:

  • Birch and Barley: Always a solid restaurant choice, and this can be a good deal, since the entrees are upwards of $30. They have not uploaded their RW menus yet, but I assume that they will not be skimping out on the choices available. Also, let’s talk about THE BREAD BOARD there. This might be my favorite bread board in the city. As soon as I sit down for dinner there, I feel like I immediately start shaking in anticipation of that wonderful platter of carbs. There has never been a time where I went to Birch & Barley and did not overindulge on the pretzel bread, mini brioche and incredible butter. Which usually means I’m stuffed by the time my entree comes around, but I just do not have the willpower to say no to those fluffy bites of heaven.
  • Casa Luca: The more casual of Fabio Trabocchi’s spots, Casa Luca offers incredible Italian food in a beautiful setting (love the outdoor patio along 11th street!). The RW dinner menu has some great offerings, such as their filet, which normally goes for $32! The pastries here are delicious (a sampling below) that I never pass on, no matter how full I am towards the end of my meal.

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  • Centrolina: New to City Center, this restaurant comes Amy Brandwein, who previously worked at Alba Osteria. I have heard nothing but praise for this Italian restaurant and market, and have listed on my places to try, eventually. They have not posted their RW menu, but their meat dishes range from $28-$42, while their pastas go from $18-$28 so I assume that you are getting a pretty good deal when RW includes apps and zerts as well.

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  • Del Campo: The amazing “South American grill” from Victor Albisu has a great lunch and dinner menu offered for two weeks (RW extended until August 30th!). The grilled short rib & chorizo option sounds incredible, especially since these meals will be beginning with their famous bread and smoked olive oil.
  • Fig and Olive: I put this on here because this restaurant recently opened in City Center amidst a lot of hype, and is the first of a few NYC spots to come to DC (Come one Momofuku, I am dying of anticipation). I am not sure if it has since lived up to this hype, since I’ve heard complaints about spotty service and an extremely loud atmosphere, but if you are thinking about trying it, RW seems like a good time. Their menu offers some good options, such as the Paella Del Mar which usually is $29, and the tajine which is $27 a la carte.
  • Mintwood Place: This always has been great for Restaurant Week because their dinner menu includes most of their regular menu (makes my heart throb like good puppy YouTube video when I see restaurants that do this). Mintwood always makes me so happy because the food never fails to satisfy me, the service is always friendly and perfectly attentive, and the atmosphere of the restaurant just generally makes me feel warm. I would recommend going here with a group so you can order every since one of their insanely delicious desserts:

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  • Nonna’s Kitchen: The Italian restaurant above Alphonse on U street has gotten a thumbs up from my real roommate, who is perhaps the pickiest and second most pretentious man that I know (first place goes to my ex-bf who once told me the vegetable selection at the new O street market Giant was “atrocious” and he could only buy greens from Whole Foods). In my mind, this means I must eat here because Jason has expressed approval for approximately 4 things since I moved in with him three years ago. The menu looks like good, solid Italian food, and I look forward to eating here because it usually only offers a 4, 5 or 7 course tasting menu (for $75, $90, $110).
  • Pinea: Located on the first floor of the W hotel downtown, A and I tried this restaurant shortly after it opened during Winter RW a few months ago. We both thought it was a great meal, and appreciated that they offered their entire menu for RW (simply pick an app, main course and dessert). The RW menu this summer gives you the same options, although the menu has changed slightly since the winter. The rack of lamb and bouillabaisse entrees sound delicious.
  • Rural Society: The Argentinean steakhouse is on the pricier side, so this is a good chance to eat here for much less. I thought our meal here was absolutely delicious during RW this past winter, and the menu looks the exact same this time around. Note: drink lots of water because they are slightly heavy-handed with the salt, and I woke up the next day convinced I would never be able to take the ring off of my puffy finger again.
  • Sushi Taro: I am coming back here (first went last summer during RW) with the fake roomie because it is just that good. It is also just that expensive during dinner, and I love a good deal, so RW is the best time for me to have some fresh, silky sashami in my mouth.

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Anju pop-up: December edition

Anju, Mandu’s monthly late-night pop-up, returns this Friday December 5th at 10pm. This month, the guest chefs are Scott Drewno of the Source, and Victor Albisu from Del Campo. Here is their South American influenced menu:

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I love both of these chefs’ restaurants, and expect these dishes to be amazing. Personally, my stomach is grumbling in anticipation of the grilled duck heart and the peruvian pad thai (got to get those carbs in somehow).

Post-Thanksgiving brunch bonding

My sister is coming home for Thanksgiving break, and as usual, we are excited to eat together. By eat together, I mean the entire process starting from dissecting the menu, to obsessively combing through yelp reviews and pictures to determine the best dishes to try, badgering the waiter with questions, and making strange, perhaps sexual sounding, noises while consuming our dishes. After our always epically delicious Thanksgiving dinner (she actually cooks well, as opposed to me.. who usually just cooks the kale/broccoli and chicken with olive oil combination night after night), we are planning on catching up over brunch on Saturday. Since she lives outside of NYC, she asked me for some brunch recommendations in the area. We do not take eating lightly, so I knew I had to come up with some good options:

  1. Le Diplomate: because like a sick addict, I can’t stay away.
  2. Macon Bistro and Larder: this is relatively new restaurant in Chevy Chase and just started brunch service in September. It has a Southern/French menu (the restaurant is refers to Macon, Georgia and its sister city in France) and has already gotten some positive reviews. If a place has good biscuit and good grits, I am putting it on my list of places to try!
  3. Del Campo: just started an bottomless brunch option for $45 which includes bloody marys and mimosas. I have been here for Happy Hour with AL for fake-roommate bonding, and really enjoyed both the atmosphere and the small grilled meat dishes.

It is wonderful when someone is a good eating partner. I love eating out with someone who is just as excited as I am about a new place, is willing to try anything, and most importantly, willing to share their food (if your dish has fries, I am going to pick at them).