Monday, March 31, 2008

Hawk and Dove

For one of the big primary nights, we we decided to head to the Hawk & Dove for some political debating, cheering, and consoling. The Hawk and Dove prides themselves on being "Washington DC's oldest Irish Bar though it's reputataion among locals is probably more for being a hotbed of young politicos.

Allow me to preface my review of the place by acknowledging that it was a busy night with all of the political hoopla. That said, it was not busier than many other bars/restaurants I've been to around here.

We were fortunate enough to grab a table in the back of the bar early on, fairly enclosed in the political center of the bar. The first problem that arose was that for some reason there was but one single bartender for the entire room to make every single drink, take every person's food and drink order, hand every person their individual dish and of course close out every tab.

For dinner, Kym had the veggie burger while I, on the advice of a friend who had been there a few times before, ordered the chicken nachos. Ordering this food required me waiting at the bar for around ten minutes amongst a vertiable mob of people until I could flag down the bartender to place an order for the four-person table.

Kym was the first to receive her order. The veggie burger came with lettuce and...nothing else. No tomatoes, onions, pickle, absolutely nothing else, The burger seemed microwaved and the bun looked and tasted cheap. Really, it was appallingly pathetic for an eight dollar burger--probably even worse than the burger at Brickskeller. The fries the burger came with were not much better. The paltry 15 or so puny fries that did manage to make their way to the plate were shriveled and not very warm.

My nachos came about 10 minutes later after Kym had pretty much finished her burger. Less-than-fresh nachos are even worse than burgers and fries of the same state. By clearly letting a good amount of time pass between melting the cheese and serving it to me (well by 'serving' I mean the bartender shouting my name so I could wade through the mob again to grab my plate from him) the chips don't melt together, they meld together like fired clay. The chips were slightly stale, cold, not well covered with cheese, and for some reason all the other condiments came on the side-- in very small quantities I might add. Making nachos is really not a tall order, so to speak, for a chef. For them not to even add the ingredients themselves is a bit pathetic.

Another person in our party placed an order of nachos on the same ticket as ours, yet still didn't have his by the time we had both finished our dishes. At that point we again waded through the sea of people to ask the bartender about the missing order and sure enough, 5-10 minutes later it arrived.

What put the hilarious icing on the cake of the whole night was when the check arrived and they had added an automatic 18%! So just to recap, I had paid for two people's food and ordered pitchers with two other friends, and they counted that as a four person group which according to their policy necessitates an automatic 18% (since when is 4 people a 'large group'?) even when they serve each dish at different times, completely forget one dish, and neither take your order nor serve you at your table.

Really I think this sort of behavior is an insult to servers who actually perform a task well to receive an 18-25% tip while these jokers think that their 'service' (if you could call it that) not only deserved, but required at the minimum an 18% tip. For the first time ever I was actually tempted to cross out the 'included gratuity' and write my own, although I don't know the actual legalities of the situation.

At the end of the day, of course it was just a few bucks so I let it go, but the overall poor service combined with their cheeky policies will make me hesitant to head there again.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Tuscana West

Last Friday a couple friends of ours were in town from Boston so we met up with them for dinner in DC. Not sure exactly where to go in DC, we left it up to the other two friends of theirs they were visiting who were a bit more familiar with the area. With two vegetarians in the group and some naysayers of Asian cuisine, we weren't left with too many options for cuisine and decided on Italian.

Apart from delivery pizza, I never seem to end up going out for Italian. Certainly its not that I don't like Italian food, perhaps it's just that Italian often seems like something I could cook fine for myself at home without even having to get that many different ingredients--certainly not having to go shopping anywhere out of the ordinary which isn't the case with a lot of other foods I go out for. Kym's often complains that her problem with Italian food for vegetarians is that you usually end up with a pasta dish where virtually every bite is the same. Personally I'm okay with that if each bite is a good bite, but I can see her point.

Tuscana West has a convenient location near the McPherson Square metro as well as a pleasant view out onto Franklin Park. The dining area is a very elegant setting. Our party of six was able to get a perfectly-sized round table which is always preferable to a rectangular set-ups when it comes to conversations. I was most pleased of all to find live jazz piano music right next to our table for the entire evening which I absolutely love during a meal at a restaurant.

The service was particularly attentive throughout the night--although this might have been due to the very small number of diners there that night even though it was a Friday. There's also something funny about having a waiter pronounce the Italian dishes using Spanish pronunciation rules, but I'm sure most people don't pick up on that.

Kym had a fresh pasta and mushroom dish that flew in the face of her worries and was delicious. I went with an Italian sausage and onions pizza that was in the style of classic Italian pizza but didn't quite hit the mark of what real Italian pizza tastes like. It was still very good though. The rest of the party seemed very happy with their dishes as well.

Considering the location in downtown DC, elegant atmosphere and sophistication of some of the dishes, I think the prices were definitely fair. Not a bargain, but fair, and we all had an enjoyable meal which at the end of the day is of course what you are going for!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

South Austin Grill

For some reason it was a while before I checked out the Tex-Mex restaurant, South Austin Grill, even though it is very near my work on King St. After eating there, I only regret I didn't try it sooner.

The standard tortilla chips and salsa they start you out with were fresh and tasty. Definitely good salsa, although it might have been a bit too runny for trying to keep some on your tortilla chip without spilling (my poor shirt did not appreciate this).

Along with the chips and salsa we ordered a couple of margaritas which again, were very decent tasting and always great to complement spicy salsa.

The menu was ample, though not so big that it made deciding a chore. I was deciding between the 'Tex' Austin Burger and the 'Mex' combo fajitas. In the end I decided ordering a burger was a bit boring so I went for the fajitas and was glad I did. Kym had a few vegetarian options available and went with cheese enchiladas.

One of the best touches at Austin Grill is the option to choose from six different freshly prepared sauces to go with your entree. Drawn in by the '19 different ingredients' slogan I had the delicious mole while Kym's tomatillo went well with the enchiladas.

The service was quick, friendly and attentive. Absolutely a big positive of the restaurant.

South Austin Grill is definitely an above average Mexican restaurant. Comparing to San Diego Mexican restaurants it might be a different story, but for now, this is a great place to get Mexican food at a decent value.

Friday, March 14, 2008


In my search to find some good places to grab lunch around my work, I wandered into Cosi the other day. Cosi is a chain that's starting to gain in popularity amongst the growing numbers of lunchers looking for something fresh yet quick. With freshly baked signature breads, a plethora of different salad and sandwich ingredients, soups and pretty reasonable prices, they are gaining a lot in popularity.

I've been trying to find a lunch entree that I can eat on a regular basis that is still healthy--not an easy task when going out!--so after combing the options (their website has assortment of nutritional data for their menu), I went for the Bombay Chicken salad with balsamic vinaigrette. I can't comment on the bread, but it certainly looked and smelled delicious.

The salad was made extremely quick, although it's always annoying when you have a question for the person taking your order and they don't understand English beyond names of different menu items so you have to wait while they wait for another co-worker to finish what they are doing to come over and listen to your question by which point your insignificant question makes you feel like you're really needlessly holding up the line.

The salad was decent with some interesting ingredients though maybe a bit too bitter lettuce although I know some prefer it that way. However, the only glaring problem with the salad was that all of the ingredients were being kept in stainless steel buckets buried in pile of ice making all of the ingredients icy cold. As any good chef knows, most flavors are subdued when they are too cold. It's why expensive cheese is allowed to sit on the cheese board before being eaten, why ice cream is best when it is soft and just beginning to melt, and why college students will throw cheap alcohol they want to taste as little of as possible into the freezer.

Tomatoes in particular is an example of a food whose flavor benefits greatly from being at room temperature and when they along with the other ingredients are icy cold, it really brings down the whole salad. I know this might make it more difficult to provide lots of different fresh ingredients if you can't keep it stored in ice buckets all day, but the fact remains that the salad itself suffers. Really though, I don't see why they can't at the very least heat the chicken up slightly before adding it to the salad at the end. Even Subway will throw it into a microwave.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Petits Plats

A family friend of Kym's is in town on a week exchange from England so we met up with her for a Sunday Brunch (since it seems to be increasingly seen as an American thing to do). While looking for a good place to go in DC, I seemed to constantly run into the problem that any popular brunch place tends to have a long waiting line. That wouldn't exactly be a great introduction to the practice so that was a firm criteria when I eventually found Petits Plats.

One of the best parts about Petits Plats is its location directly opposite a metro stop, not to mention the short walk to our free National Zoo (which we happily took advantage of after the meal). Immediately upon entering a friendly waitress asked if we'd like her to take our coats. This was a very nice touch, however it made me quickly feel I was a bit underdressed for the place. I had thought based on its prices it would be a fairly casual brunch, however my t-shirt and jeans looked a bit out of place when people in suits and Sunday dresses began arriving. Admittedly, I think I might have still been in San Diego brunch-mode where people drag themselves out of bed and drop in for a strong coffee, either still in their clothes from the night before or whatever scruffy clothes they found lying near their bed.

The decor of the place was fun with lots of bright colors and some nice paintings on the wall. The two girls ordered omelletes while I went for a non-breakfast lamb sandwich with roasted peppers and goat cheese. It was nice that they had a bit of variety on their menu as brunch can get a bit boring with the same breakfast ingredients at every venue.

We were given warm baguette pieces to start off with which was a French touch, however they had the distinct taste of having been just warmed up in the microwave. The coffee was particularly tasty though we had to wait a while for refills at first (I think because we got there just after service had started).

The dishes were...good. Nothing spectacular, but certainly nothing poor. All in all for the location, price, service and atmosphere Petits Plats was well worth it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mai Thai

In our common search for a vegetarian-friendly delivery place, I'm not exactly sure how we missed Mai Thai. Somehow it just wasn't coming up in our internet searches, hopefully this post will get the word out a bit! Fortunately for us, the delivery menu popped up in the lobby last week.

We knew of Mai Thai since it is located along our common wandering path, at the very end of King Street, right next to the river. It was only due to plans falling apart at the last minute a couple of times that we hadn't eaten at the actual location before and before seeing the menu in the lobby, we hadn't even though to see if they did delivery, probably because it looks much more like a sit-down restaurant than the typical Asian delivery joint. And certainly they don't see themselves as that sort of establishment as they have a policy not to even do deliveries after March 31st each year. My only guess is that they use the delivery service to help alleviate the reduction of dining-in customers during the bad weather season (not a policy we ever encountered in San Diego for some reason).

What also caught us by surprise were the prices of the dishes. Given the location by the river and the elegant-looking dining room, I expected to pay $12-$18 a dish. Instead the vegetarian entrees were more in the $7-9 range, which is certainly a change of pace from many overpriced restaurants in close proximity to it.

Delivery was prompt (and free), but what really impressed was the food. The dishes were easily the best Thai food we've had since arriving on the East coast. The Pad Thai in particular was extremely tasty, better than most I've had on either coast. It was distinctly reminiscent of freshly cooked Pad Thai as opposed to those that taste like they've been scooped out of monstrous vats of Pad Thai and lack a bit in flavor like some others we've had.

We also opted for the mango salad which was a wonderfully fresh complement to the spicy and savory entrees. I'm sure we'll order from Mai Thai again soon, before the March 31st deadline comes up and I imagine we'll try out the dine-in option in the summertime coupled with a walk along the Potomac.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


My very first experience with Brickskeller was a brief, albeit poor encounter with the bar and restaurant. We were wandering Dupont Circle and happened to run into a friend who knew the area better than us and pointed us in the direction of the establishment. It was a bit of a walk but on his recommendation we headed over. When you first walk through the door you're greeted by a hybrid staircase/hallway/waiting area. The area was full of people our age who seemed a bit agitated at how long they had been there. I went to inquire about the waiting time with the man at the door with the clipboard. Apparently they have fairly strict regulations about how many people they let in the bar at once. Not because it was particularly packed inside or that they want to keep up a status as a VIP place, they just seem to prefer it that way from what I could tell.

I stood in front of the doorman, looking straight at him for about a minute before he even acknowledged me while he was talking with a co-worker. When I began to ask about what sort of waiting time we were looking at, he suddenly interrupted me and started saying something else to his co-worker. I was taken aback by the rudeness enough that I just turned around and told the rest of my party (to their chagrin) that we were leaving (even though we didn't have a great idea of where we were headed to after that).

Fast forward a couple of weeks later and a larger group of friends who were quite keen on the Brickskeller made a reservation for all of us there. With little other choice, we went to give it another chance.

The Brickskeller's obvious appeal when you get there is the gigantic list of beers. I do like trying interesting new beers, but there gets a point when you can have too much choice. Reading the menu was like combing through the index of a college textbook. With small font (hopefully at least the trees appreciated that), no line-spacing, many similarly-named beers and at least 8 chock-full pages, choosing was not quite the pleasurable experience I would have hoped. What really made the menu obscene however, was the complete lack of descriptions. I mean seriously, how many of the people who come there actually know the difference between that many beers by name alone? Sure one knows the general difference between hefeweizens, india pale ales and stouts, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Eventually with the help of a friend who had spent a year in Germany, we ordered. For the most part, the beers were very good quality. There was only one beer that someone outright disliked and the broad range allowed some people to get sweeter ciders and others to get dark double stouts.

The food there was disappointing. I ordered a medium-rare burger that not only arrived medium-to-well-done, but sat on top of what looked like a Wonderbread bun! I'm no hamburger bun connoisseur, but it was pretty pathetic how cheap and tasteless of a bun it came on. No matter how fresh they are, those types of buns always taste a bit stale. It was the sort of bun you'd receive at a school event where they were giving out free burgers. Certainly not what I expected from a $9 burger--just signs a really cheap chef or owner from what I could tell.

The service was what I guess I should have expected based on my first experience at the place. To be fair, the waiter seemed like a genuinely nice guy who was knowledgeable about the beers, but over the course of the night he: spilled our beers (at one point onto someone's clothing), forgot a beer, messed up the check (which is a big hassle when you have a large group) and it always took a very long time to get an order in when someone wanted another drink. At some point you have to blame the owners though--I could not understand why they had hardly any staff on a busy Friday night.

So Brickskeller is great purely in terms of the number of beers they offer, but overall seems like a poorly managed establishment. If you're targeting the beer enthusiast, is it that hard to think you might want to describe the beers you're selling?