Friday, February 29, 2008

Le Pain Quotidien

A new sandwich shop opened up just down the street from me recently, and after having to endure the jackhammer sounds from my office and falling dust as I walked by, I felt obliged to try out the end result of all this work.

Le Pain Quotidien, as you might imagine from its name, is a french-inspired eatery. Their concept appears to start with first and foremost with its bread which they make fresh using very high quality organic ingredients. The ingredients that follow are far from shabby as it uses high quality fresh cheeses, meats and vegetables. The sandwich choices are pleasantly eclectic and varied which is always nice as often I can get in a rut of finding something I like and ordering it again and again even though at the same time I do enjoy experimenting.

The service there was top notch. I ordered at the counter, but after that it was waiter service where the very professional looking waiter was very eager to get me any condiment or utensil I might like for my sandwich.

The seating is a refreshing departure from the norm. Instead of individual two and four-spot tables, most of the dining area is taken up by a large communal table where everyone sits down 'together' in a sense. It's a nice change from my desk and office I sit in for the rest of the day.

As you might imagine from the description, the major drawback is the price. It's a bit hard to stomach $11+ for an open-faced sandwich that quite frankly didn't really fill me up. Perhaps I am simply not the demographic they are shooting for as the venue seemed filled with female middle-aged professionals. Maybe some day I'll be two-thirds of that demographic and enjoy this type of food more often!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rocket Bar

Although we were originally slated to meet up with our friends in Old Town last night, somehow the venue got changed to Chinatown in DC so after a quick stop for happy hour at Chadwick's (by far the best happy hour we've found so far) we jumped on the metro and headed into DC.

The venue was Rocket Bar which had been talked up pretty highly to me with its pool, shuffleboard and other games. Rocket Bar is one of those bars that I think heavily benefited from the recent smoking ban in DC (at least from the perspective of a nonsmoker like myself). The bar is located underground and has a dark cellar-like atmosphere. Were it full of cigarettes, I'm sure the ventilation would not be sufficient to keep it from looking like a dark fog at night. Instead, it was a much more relaxed atmosphere where the bar was pretty full, but not too full--a nice balance.

The beer selection was nothing extravagant like Rustico, but still pretty decent with about 10 different beers on tap, mostly microbrews and imports. It was also a relief that they had a well-organized tab system since the past couple of times we've been out with friends we've ended up with a 12-inch receipt that felt like a calculus problem.

While there was a lot of talk about playing shuffleboard all night, the reality was that by the time we arrived, all of the shuffleboards were taken. Furthermore, as you would expect given the limited supply and high demand, the rental rates were fairly expensive--$18/hour for a pool table. I don't want to get on a "back in my day" rant, but that still seems like a lot to pay for a bar pool to me. Still, I'd like to go back some time and try to grab one of the shuffleboard tables before they all get taken.

One complaint we all had was the music. The selection came from a jukebox which is usually leads to a fun mix, but the balance on the speakers were completely off. The bass seemed to be turned up to 11 which would be manageable if the speakers could handle it, but instead it sounded like one of those people driving around with their windows down in an Geo Metro trying to blast 2pac on a factory installed stereo.

Still the music wasn't too loud, the place wasn't too packed and the air was relatively clean but the bar was still lively and we all had a fun time. It did lack food service which disappointed some in our group, but they had an interesting policy of allowing any outside food in at all which is fairly plentiful with of the restaurants nearby. This isn't quite as convenient as hailing down a waiter, but it does lead to a less messy and less crowded bar without waiters carrying plates and drinks everywhere. We ended up opting for some tasty chinese food afterwards which honestly was probably tastier and cheaper than your average bar food anyway!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chipotle Mexican Grill in Old Town

The concept behind the popular Chipotle chain is very interesting. While on the one hand it is Mexican fast food, on the other hand it places an emphasis on criteria where fast food joints tend not to focus. The ingredients are touted to be high quality with fresh vegetables and meat that is steroid and hormone free and fed a vegetarian diet. If how they treat animals their animals isn't enough for you, they also are impressively involved in philanthropy. In fact when my wife worked at a non-profit organization back in San Diego, Chipotle was consistently one of the most helpful local businesses in the community, seemingly always happy to provide help with food and money. As you would expect, Chipotle is not exactly Taco Bell when it comes to their pricing, but I feel it's money well spent.

What makes Chipotle especially interesting is that McDonald's used to be a large stakeholder in the company. It was as if McDonald's had recognized the inevitable decline of its unhealthy greasy food and was creating something of an escape hatch for itself. For whatever reason, they have since sold their stake and chosen to focus on its questionably healthy salads and new 'gourmet' coffee. It remains to be seen how their strategy will work out, though personally I'm skeptical of their ability to straddle two fairly separate demographics. However, if I'm that confident in my restaurant managerial talent, perhaps I should go to school for it.

Also nice at Chipotle is the ability choose exactly how you want your meal. It almost seems strange that Mexican food hadn't already gone this way when you consider that nearly all Mexican dishes are just slightly different combinations of meat, cheese, beans and rice. In a way, Chipotle really reminds me of when Subway first came out and the sandwiches were made with a little more care and the vegetables were much much fresher than they are today. Hopefully Chipotle doesn't go down the same path.

Since I've started to go out a bit more at lunch, I've been searching for places where I can find something reasonably healthy, tasty and not too expensive. This is where chipotle fits the bell pretty dang well. With their 'burrito bowls' you can easily forgo the carb-laden tortilla and being able to choose the ingredients I opted for the vegetarian black beans over the greasier pinto beans and no sour cream (though I did go for some of the tasty guacamole--its fat is monosaturated after all right?)

The food is pretty tasty and filling. It's hard to say whether the slightly lacking in flavor was due to a step-down in quality from a full-blown Mexican restaurant or whether it was just the lack of cheese, sour cream, etc. Regardless, for its price and speed of service Chipotle is a great place to grab lunch.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Old Town Deli

With a recent raise at my job, I find myself more and more going out and grabbing something at lunch instead of bringing something in. When the exist, leftovers are ideal to bring in, however, I often end up trying to throw something together in a half-awake dazed rush. When in this state, it is always tempting to walk out the door with a bit of rationalization instead.

Often I would end up going to Red Mei at lunch since their value for money can hardly be beat in the area--for anyone going there, I especially recommend the Thai Ginger Garlic Chicken and the Spicy Chicken!

After looking around for some reviews, I came across Old Town Deli which seemed to have good reviews, and boy am I glad I did.

It's hard to say whether I would have discovered this place were it not for the positive reviews online. The location isn't great as it's a bit off King street which can often cause oblivious me to not notice it. When you look at it from the outside, it hardly catches your eye. It's a bit of a hole in the wall with a nondescript sign and storefront. Finally, the name itself, 'Old Town Deli' really does not do it justice. For me, that name evokes a combination convenience store and butcher who cuts up some ham on an electric slicer and slaps it on some bread with mayo.

Instead the place is nothing like that. Instead it is full of freshly cooked mediterranean food (which I'm always a sucker for) and seems to be a family-run establishment where even in the middle of extremely hectic lunch hours (hectic is an understatement, its very popular at that time and gets packed), they manage to have a smile on their face and get you through the line with impressive speed.

I read several reviews that mentioned their Sampler Salad, so I went with that and was not disappointed. Listening to other people in line, I was far from alone with my choice. The salad is fairly simple--lettuce, onions, cucumber, grilled mediterranean chicken, pita chips, and a delicious lemon vinaigrette. I'm actually glad they resist stuffing it with too many different flavors that would distract from the great flavors already within.

I've already been back there a few times now and am sure I'll be back for more!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Los Tios Mexican Restaurant

Last night we decided to do a bit of wandering in the opposite direction of the always-alluring King Street and walked into Del Ray up through Mount Vernon Ave. Even on a chilly winter night there was plenty of people bustling about. Though Del Ray does not have the density of restaurants and bars as Old Town, there is still fair number of places to explore.

It seems like when we go out without a specific place in mind we always end up going somewhere at the end of the street. It usually goes something like "Ooh that place looks good, let's just go a bit further and if we don't see anything better, we'll come back." Cue to 30 minutes later of wandering and our stomachs convince us to refrain from backtracking.

Friday night was a similar situation and we ended up going to Los Tios Grill, a Mexian restaurant at the Northern end of Del Ray. Encouraging us to go there were some reviews we remembered referring to this place as one of the best Mexican restaurants in the city.

The service was friendly and reasonably quick. Kym started off with a margarita as she is prone to do at Mexican restaurants whereas I began with a bottle of Negra Modelo. I was little disappointed that they didn't have more Mexican beer on tap, but it might just be hard to find a distributor in this part of the country. At least the salsa was tasty while we waited for our entrees.

For our entrees, Kym went with a spinach enchilada and I ordered the Chicken, Beef and Shrimp fajitas. Kym was happy with the enchilada, it tasted good...but nothing special. I had a similar reaction to my fajitas. Perhaps our expectations were too high due to the reviews we had heard in addition to coming from San Diegan Mexican food.

A good meal with good service but nothing we'll be running back to.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Subjectivity of Wine: Part II

I came across another intriguing study on the subjectivity of wine tasting. Cal Tech found that the simple act of telling someone that a bottle of wine was expensive made them judge the wine to taste better and the converse of telling them it was a cheap bottle of wine caused them to judge it poorly.

What made the study even more enlightening was that it was not, as I assumed, merely a form of the Emperor not wearing any clothes where people fear sounding unknowledgeable about wine and thus simply lie and say the more expensive wine tastes better. Instead, the conductors of the survey measured the actual brain activity of the subjects and found that the pleasure centers of the brain really did show increased activity when tasting a wine they were told was expensive.

This is one of those studies that really demonstrates how much we underestimate the brain's power. The question is, should this make us more or less cynical about wine tasting. On the surface, there is the obvious observation that 'it's all in our head'. Why should we spend $90 on a bottle of wine whose main attribute is its extravagant price rather than the actual contents of the bottle. Yet on the other hand, if we are ordering wine for others--particularly those who are not aware of these sorts of studies--it appears that they will truly get more enjoyment out of a bottle of wine they know to be pricey. It's a fascinating conundrum.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Carl Warner Photographs

I just found these beautiful food photographs from Carl Warner on the BBC.

Each photograph has been painstakingly made entirely out of different pieces of food.

They are truly amazing- I can't imagine how long it must have taken to set these up!

They are truly mazing- I can't imagine