A couple of quick hits before I sabbaticize for a while...
The troika of Korean restaurants on Midlothian are well worth the long drive out to that side of the city - Young Bin Kwan, Korean Garden and 88 Garden. At this point, I've felt that they are all running virtually together in terms of taste, quality, price, decor and service. Regarding authenticity, no direct comparison, but I think that they're very close to the plentiful "better" options a further drive away (Annandale or Rockville). Tellingly for me, I had to say that I liked the dolsot at any (or all) better than one I had at a Korean place in the far east (not Korea). So, I guess one could pick any one of them with a somewhat equal probability of having a good dinner. The menus at all are quite a handful and it is a bit difficult to choose if you arent sure (at all places, the staff have helped out, somewhat). The Korean bbq is a good place to start (better if you have more than 2 people), but if not quite that adventurous you cant go wrong with the smaller casseroles or "famous" dishes - bulgogi, bibimbap, jap chae (noodles), jigae (stew) etc. Again, they all have sushi which I havent tried. At last visit, I thought that the banchan (those savory little kimchi dishes) at YB had a slight edge to those at the others.
6135 (88G), 6827 (KG), 7437 (YB) on Midlothian Turnpike...almost tempted but no number games here today; they're roughly equidistant from the central one.
The wine bar race in Carytown is heating up. Secco and Amour are the two latest additions to the area and while they seem to feature entirely different vibes (one being decidedly more casual in appearance and manner), this will be fun to follow. Amour, the owner informed us, has a rather interesting monthly French region concept. This month its the Alsace and the next month its the Rhone. Makes for some terrific wines at least.
On sabbaticals, ending with a non-food related musing. My Wednesday readings will be far diminished now that Olivia Judson, evolutionary biologist, writer extraordinaire (and, incidentally a lovely person to talk to) sadly announced a so, long and thanks (for all the fish?) for year. I'll have to get my fix for great (science) writing elsewhere....
I guess writing about Ms.Judson is not completely food unrelated. Her upcoming book "Dinosaur Eggs for Breakfast" would make for a nice breakfast indeed - OJ & eggs !!
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
A couple of quick hits before I sabbaticize for a while...
Sunday, June 27, 2010
A welcome seedling to the choice decision tree around is the new Sprout at 1 N Morris Street.
Its barely over a month old (continuing construction seems to feature the setting up of some awfully quaint and nice looking benches made of reclaimed wood), so every visit thus far has been at a different stage of its metamorphosis. I can only picture its final version; but I really liked the unfinished airy setting each time, sans objets d'art (thus far?) that seem to clutter so many places of like persuasion. Despite being bright and spacious (I was told it used to be a police station and a furniture store among earlier incarnations), it was also pleasantly cool from the hot sun and made for a perfectly languid meal.
I've enjoyed both a recent lunch and a dinner there and since the menu changes frequently (its nice they post updates on facebook), I would just add that the food tasted very fresh and well put together (also points for being quite eclectic and of course for the sourcing of ingredients). Sprout is also a market - They were featuring some local art and produce for sale and oddly enough, comic books too ?!
It will be interesting to see how they fare (pun intended). Variables: their location (for example, right across from crossroads, with its own idiosyncrasies and other nearby options), their price point (lunch ~$10+, dinner ~$20+ (including t&t and a drink) and an unconventional menu (I liked seeing choices of sides of cucumber salad, beets or tomatoes with my lunch sandwich! AND I love my crisps and fries :)). Also will be interesting to see how service goes once the bar is set up (or raised, I'm feeling quite punny)
I wish them luck especially since I like what they're doing and done so far.
Speaking of local dining and the buzzword nature of the same, Alan Richman writes an extremely interesting article in the July 2010 GQ on the topic of "ethical dining" and culinary ideologues. "Eat No Evil"
Thanks or No Thanks - to the New High Priests and Hipster Philosophers of the Food World. Lately it feels like everything on the menu comes with a heaping side order of guilt - "Is that mache local AND roof-raised? Whats the carbon footprint of your burger? Was your salmon farm-slaughtered or delicately line-caught?". Its enough to put a man off his meal.
One of my niece's friends proposed what I believe is the most easily understood guideline for eating ethically when she said that it came down to "not eating like an asshole". How sad that in America today, even that seems an unattainable ideal.
And appearances by fascinating people like Dan Barber, Eric Ripert, Alice Waters and Mollie Katzen among others in between !
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
A recent trip to the far east made me ponder a few things -
Despite different experiences in various Chinatowns, I came to a quick realization that a large cross-section of Chinese food in the US is quite a travesty. One of the best revelations was the diversity of options and the lack of reliance on fried food. For example, if I Wiki-ed earlier, I would perhaps have been better informed - "US Chinese food typically treats vegetables as garnish while cuisines of China emphasize vegetables". I guess we were lucky to have hosts who knew what to order but the plethora of choices: Eggplant, carrots, onions, bok choy, cabbages, all kinds of mushrooms, tomatoes that didnt taste like cardboard, terrific use of garlic and ginger, seaweed, tofu were either served as standalone dishes or supplemented fresh meats and fish in some of the best dining I've had. The difference was the lack of "spices" of the conventional kind, but the skillful melding of different ingredients to create hot yet delicate food (poof !! the myth of the bland Chinese food). The best part, was the communal approach to food with a good time spent over talking and eating and sharing dishes.
The other was the obvious fact that a lot of people who warned me of difficult and tasteless food were totally off. I realize the irony of writing this on a food blog, but opinions only go so far !!
Specialties like Xiao bao long (delectable dumplings that literally burst with flavor in your mouth) and hot pot were new additions to my culinary dictionary.
So when my Chinese student informed me that the new MaMa Wok out in the Broad Street strip mall wilderness was a good visit, I immediately jumped at the chance to test this conjecture. We were told that the food at MW is apparently closer to Taiwanese cuisine (the majority of Chinese places are variations of Cantonese or Szechuan). A pretty exhaustive menu and while it contains the usual suspects of American Chinese cuisine - General Tso's, Kung Pao's and Orange chicken et al, we felt it was time to move beyond this paradigm.
Getting some of their specialties turned out to be excellent choices. In particular, a beef dish with vegetables came simmering to the table in a hot pot and continued cooking at the table for around 5 mins. Hints of ginger supplemented the vegetables (primarily bok) and the meat. I had to try their hot and sour soup which was also great. I kind of craved the spiciness of Shanghainese cooking but these were lightly spiced and importantly not smothered in that greasy, saucy stereotypical mode found in so many places around. A long drive away, but my initial impression was that MW is a great addition to (formerly lacking) good Chinese options around.
There are a variety of sushi options too but I think I'll stick to the Chinese food for now and particularly, keep away from the food tailored to suit "western palates".
A dinner for two is around $30+ (w/ t&t) but note: The portion sizes at MW are huge. A single entree is definitely enough for two people and two entrees, supplemented by some rice makes for 2 good meals. Service was fine.
MaMa Wok at 7801 Broad Street.
Monday, June 14, 2010
As an unabashed "online reservationist", I've often wondered about the lack of Opentable (or similar) access in RVA restaurants.
This recent article in the NYTimes on No-reservation restaurants was interesting:
Comments (mostly expressing like sympathies - my bias is obvious !) on the followup in the Diner's Journal.
I guess the number that interested me was all the way out on page 3 - "The average restaurant spends $1,500 to $2,000 a month on OpenTable". Now, I'm even more intrigued by the calculus. This is for NYC, where presumably everything skews higher. Also averages are generally less useful compared to medians. So what might be a reasonable value here? This number is meaningless if considered a pure outlay. And the old dismal science favorite - Opportunity costs?
Some numbers (as of today) - NYC (Manhattan alone) - 917, DC - 249, NoVA - 150, Norfolk/VA Beach - 41, RVA - 25 ! Sigh...!!
Edit: I was informed (accurately) that the last numbers are also meaningless unless normalized to population. So a little bit of wiki-ing and consideration of what the census bureau calls a metropolitan statistical area
(2009 est) DC - 5.29m, Norfolk/VA Beach - 1.65m and RVA - 1.2m.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
A big thanks to the Richmond Food Collective blog for posting this list of restaurants that emphasizes local sourcing of ingredients. Only 8 restaurants on this list (good to see a couple of my favorites on there) but having earlier craved this sort of information, thats a fine start !
While at it, a recent revisit to Lemaire was as satisfying as previous ones. This time it was the creamy cauliflower bisque and the excellent lamb chops with white bean cassoulet/surry sausage that did the trick. A fine dinner polished off with strawberry rhubarb cobbler. The service is wonderful but while they're at that level, they could perhaps add those little touches that one might expect at such a restaurant (not to mention the prices) without seeming too obsequious - for example (re)folding napkins, holding chairs pour les dames etc. I guess the general ambience of the Jefferson does tend to educe this sentiment.
Another favorite X (I'm withholding judgement till I get to go again) used to do such things when they first opened (perhaps they still do) but lackluster (tending to poor) service on a recent visit dampened the wonderful food. It is a pity when fine kitchens are let down by the staff (seems to happen only too often here in RVA).
In honor of the great, recently deceased Martin Gardner: If one assigns numbers to letters (A=1, B=2 etc), X can be (partially) solved from a set containing the first 4 Fibonacci numbers. This number is truly fascinating - both it and its palindrome are prime factored using only numbers "constructed" from this set. (its all in fun and games :)!)