Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse

This week I was fortunate enough to get to see a stand-up comedian at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse. Now although I found the act entertaining, I can't exactly speak highly of the establishment. Now I preface this by saying I really like the concept behind the place. Basically it looks to have been an old theater which they renovated for movies, live music and comedy along with a decent selection of beers on tap. The place definitely has a lot of character and not as cookie cutter some of comedy club franchises can be.

However, the organization behind the place is really terrible. I bought my tickets ahead of time online and then arrived almost an hour ahead of time to get some good seats and maybe a drink. The last time I did this for a show, the club was smart enough to start assigning people seats while they had a drink in the main lobby. Instead at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse they decided to make you wait in line outside in the cold to pick up your ticket. To make matters worse, plenty of people seemed resigned to this fate so the line was actually starting to build up. My friend and I decided that good vs. okay seats and a comedy show wasn't quite worth an hour in the cold--myself especially as I hadn't foreseen the necessity of a winter jacket. When we asked if we could just go inside for a drink at the DRAFTHOUSE before waiting in the line outside we were told this was impossible?!

After going for a drink elsewhere we got in line and to add insult to injury, the people behind us who hadn't bought tickets ahead of time actually moved through the queue faster than us as the person scrolled through the will call list looking for our names. When we got inside, I realized why so many had been willing to wait in line for so long--there were some pretty bad seats inside. The seating is a bit like stadium-style seating however some 'levels' are 10-15 feet deep with multiple rows of seats which can put people directly in your line of view which would be manageable if you weren't above the act which really messes up your view.

Well to take some solace from the experience, at least I learned a bit of a lesson about the Arlington Drafthouse if I am ever forced to go there again--bring warm clothes!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bugsy's Pizza Restaurant

Saturday was further exploring of King's St along with some of the friends we've managed to make in the couple of months since moving here to DC. We started at around where King St intersects with Hwy 1 and wandered towards the river. As can be the case with a larger group of people, choices were whittled away until you came at the lowest common denominator where everyone is happy: pizza and beer. After we had a look at the Potomac (a lovely viewing location is just north of King st when you get to the end) we saw nearby Bugsy's Pizza Restaurant (and sports bar) and liked the prices enough to head in.

Although in a bustling part of King St, the bar was thankfully not too loud and talking was not a problem. We started off with some pitchers of beer. The selection on those was not great and the pitchers were that small size where you wonder what's even the point of the pitchers at all. The pizza selection was equally nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps I'm a bit spoiled from recent feasts of zpizza, but I thought the choices were a bit lacking.

However, when all was said and done, the quality of the pizzas were superb. We opted for the Olympic pizza which came with garlic herb sauce, mozzarella cheese, artichokes, onions, mushrooms and feta cheese. I've found that white sauce on pizzas can often be overly rich but the sauce here had just the right balance. The artichokes were of very good quality which is often not the case at other places. Overall, it was a good meal, though exploration of other locations in Old Town will certainly continue.

Friday, October 26, 2007

(Almost) Perfect Roast Chicken

Last night we treated ourselves to the always-delicious Roast Dinner. Kym usually takes care of the roasted veggies, Yorkshire pudding and gravy while I, in true patriarchal-style take care of the meat. Probably a bit unbalanced since the meat is for me really, but at least it has given me a lot of practice roasting chickens:

The first step of course is buying the raw chicken itself. At my vegetarian wife's request, I always purchase a free range hen. I can see her point of course--I don't exactly like the thought or sight of battery-caged hens--but I'd be lying if I said all the chicken I eat is free range. As a bonus point, the free range chickens, like the eggs they lay, do seem to taste better than their counterparts and are usually a bit more manageable of a size (less worry of overcooking the breasts while cooking the legs all the way through). I have heard that Kosher chickens are the best choice, however I have yet to see a combination Kosher and free range chicken. Maybe some day? For now, Trader Joe's has a pretty decent price on their free range chickens, though there is certainly a sizable premium you pay for the guilt relief.

The second step is one that most people seem to go without but can drastically improve the taste and texture of the chicken: brining. Though it takes a bit of foresight and planning, the final product is rewarding. Simply dissolve 1/2 cup of salt into 1/2 gallon of water in a stock pot. Then place the chicken into the water and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. If you can squeeze the chicken into a gallon ziploc back and remove as much air as possible, even better.

After brining, remove the chicken from pot or bag and pat dry with paper towels. Place on a V-rack roasting pan (I strongly recommend lining the bottom with aluminum foil for easier clean-up) breast-side up and set aside. In a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup dijon mustard and 2 Tbl of fresh or dried mixed herbs. Then
using a pastry brush, brush the breast-side of the bird, sprinkle with kosher salt, flip over and repeat. For the final preparation of the bird, peel 5-6 cloves of garlic and toss in to the cavity of the bird.

Place into a pre-heated 375 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes, then flip over the bird and increase the temperature to 450 to finish off the breasts for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a thermometer in the thickest part of the breast reads 160 and the thigh reads 165. Now as a side note, in my experience I've had the best results going by the color of the skin (a dark golden brown) rather than the thermometer. Of course when using the latter method you need to slice open part part of the breast and legs to make sure its not dark pink on the inside and that the juices run clear. The down side of this of course is are allowing juice to escape from the chicken which brings me to the final part: let the chicken rest! This is an essential step to avoiding stringy dry meat. Allow at least 25-30 minutes for the bird to rest before carving it up. It will still be plenty warm, like a lot of cooking it just requires patience and planning.

When carving the chicken up, although the slices will look cleanest when done with a chef's knife, I love the convenience of an electric serrated knife. Start with the breasts, then cut off the drumsticks, flip over and slice off the thighs and wings. If that's enough meat for the meal, I prefer to let the rest of the chicken cool off and pick the meat off later to refrigerate. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Prepared Whole Foods

One of the great things about our location our fortunate proximity to both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods--each under a mile from our apartment. I was afraid that moving to the East coast would make me lose these two mainstays of my grocery shopping, but fortunately their massive success on the West Coast has allowed them to start populating neighborhoods over here.

Currently, Whole Foods is a place I reserve chiefly as a supplementary store for products I simply can't find anywhere else. Favorites such as free range eggs, Quorn, Halloumi cheese and Paneer simply aren't available elsewhere from what I've found. Whenever I wander through the store full of fresh organic vegetables, mammoth-sized prawns and delicious cheeses from around the world, I dream of someday being well-off enough to shop here. Not that it stops everyone, I've heard some peers refer to the store as "Whole Paycheck" as they succumb to the sights and smells of the store even with their modest income.

One part of the store that I've never tried out too much is the prepared food area. I have heard good reviews about it from friends so I decided to give it a try. In classic Vegemeatarian fashion, Kym went straight for the enormous salad bar while I dived into the international cuisine section with an array of meat dishes. Since you pay by the weight, I decided to forgo most of the starch-based dishes and try small amounts of several of the different meats. Kym is often disappointed with salads she gets outside of the home, but the wide selection at Whole Foods allowed her to create a more than satisfying concoction. I was very happy with all the different tastes I was able to assemble as well and it was even pretty healthy in terms of high protein and low carb.

As always seems to be the case at Whole Foods, the one downside was when we came to the register. Both of ours were approximately $12 each which is quite a bit to pay considering you you are serving yourself buffet-style and the ambiance is a grocery store. Still, a very delicious meal which I hope to do again sometime soon!

Monday, October 15, 2007

zpizza Delivery

We've certainly found our new favorite delivery place in zpizza. With the exception of Red Mei, we haven't had much of any luck finding non-pizza delivery food. There are services like Dr. Delivery and Takeout Taxi which deliver on behalf of a variety of restaurants, however when ordering for just two people, the prices for delivery end up a bit extortionate. I'm not sure whether the high prices are due to lack of competition, lack of demand or simply a high cost of business, but as of now, its not a feasible alternative--at least for us.

Luckily we have found a delivery place that although is another in the long list of pizza joints, is anything but 'just pizza'. Unknown to me, zpizza is acutally a growing franchise but you wouldn't guess it from its atypical menu. From Crimini and Shitake mushrooms with Truffle oil to pesto-based sauce with soy cheese and veggie burger crumbles, it has everything under under the sun. Thankfully it doesn't have the ridiculous policy that Pizza Nova in San Diego (the main 'high quality' pizza place in the area) had which didn't allow half-and-half specialty pizzas.

It even has the option of whole-wheat pizza crusts which I don't understand why more pizza places don't offer. And no, I'm not deluding myself into thinking this option makes the pizza healthy, we both really much prefer the taste.

On top of the great food they offer, zpizza also has a really well-build website which lets you place orders online as well as see tantalizing photos of the specialty pizzas they offer. So far, the service has been both fast and accurate--the latter which can definitely be a problem when dealing with people over the phone in a loud and/or busy call center.

If you're in the area and haven't given zpizza a try yet, be sure to do so!

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Long-Expected Party

Well we've continued to try to explore King Street a bit further recently and last night came across a great spot off the main street a bit: Bilbo Baggins. Though some might find the name a bit odd for a cafe/restaurant with no affiliation to Tolkien's book, I love it (and I'm not even the big LOtR fan out of the two of us).

As you might expect from the name, the inside is a bit cozy with low ceilings, and small floor space, but I really liked the atmosphere (with the exception on one particular customer whose obnoxious shouting voice seemed to indicate that she wanted to be the attention of not just her own conversation, but the entire bar--but I can hardly fault Baggins for that).

The service was a bit ditsy (I had to repeat both drink orders to her), but definitely friendly. It had a nice hole-in-the-wall neighborhood feel to the place that I really enjoyed.

The best part of the place, however, was easily the beer selection which comprised a 3-page long list of beers from all around the world. I get the impression that an extensive international beer selection is much more commonplace on the East Coast than it was in California which is a bit ironic since most of the domestic beers the places list are in fact from California, even San Diego specifically. I'm a sucker for Belgian beers and I was certainly not disappointed by my selection, neither in flavor nor expense really. In fact, though many would probably view this as almost blasphemous, when I'm spending less than $10/glass on a drink, I realized that I much more appreciate truly high quality beer than a glass of wine for the same price.

The food looked very interesting as well. Certainly not the typical pub fare that I've been seeing prevalent around DC as you can see from their lunch specials. Although very original, I can't yet comment on the quality since the couple next to us left quite a bit of their appetizers uneaten. Who knows though, they might have just had boring palates.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Red Lobster

Yesterday Kym dragged me to IKEA to finally get some 'essentials' for the apartment like candles, couch cushions and more flower vases. On the way there we spotted a Red Lobster which has become something of a running joke between us. Last year I received a $25 gift card to Red Lobster and was looking forward to it (since I have only had a whole lobster one other time in my life) when I looked up the menu online to find out they didn't have a single menu item that was vegetarian. I know that some people say "well if you don't eat meat, don't go to a place that calls itself something like Red Lobster" but in reality people go out to eat in groups and sometimes people in these groups might have different eating habits. Anyway enough ranting, the bottomline is that I had had this Red Lobster card burning a hole in my wallet for over a year now. Due to my kindness in going out to IKEA with her, Kym reciprocated with agreeing to finally go to Red Lobster.

Thankfully, although a committed vegetarian, Kym is far from one of those "I can't eat this if the cooking utensil has touched a dish containing meat" so, trooper that she is, she ordered shrimp fettuccine alfredo and picked out the shrimp. Myself, I figured when in Rome, order a live Maine lobster for one.

This being the second lobster I had eaten in my life and first in almost 10 years, I looked quite the fool trying to crack the shell and eat the crustacean. The last time I had the benefit of a friend who was versed in the ways of lobster dissection, but this time my dining partner was unfortunately as clueless as I was.

Still, donning the bib and diving into fresh lobster was rather fun. Being honest, it wasn't quite as good as I remember it. I don't know if that's just a hazy memory or if the restaurant I ordered from before had better ingredients and/or cooking methods. Given that my first lobster was at a well-respected restaurant near Pike's Place Market in Seattle and this one was from a chain restaurant, I can easily see it being the latter reason. Still it was a lot of fun and I'm sure I'll do it again some time, though maybe not at Red Lobster (as if I could convince Kym to go there again any time in the foreseeable future without a gift card).