Mikko

I’m about to utter some words never before spoken in the English language: I miss the food I ate in Iceland. Before going there, I was a hardcore nay-sayer every time my friend mentioned wanting to eat their traditional food. But everything we found there was high-quality, fresh, and a plethora of delicious seafood that I’ve been trying to recreate at home ever since. Mikko has that adorable made-by-Ikea look that let’s you know this place is all about salmon.

Honestly, I was pretty disappointed with their whole set-up. Seating is extremely limited both inside and outside, with only the tiniest tables that honestly probably did come from the playroom department of Ikea, and you have to order at the counter. I get that this is more of a lunch place and we were there for dinner. I also get that counter ordering was inordinately stressful because there were five of us and nobody can agree. But if you are open for dinner, and if you have dishes that cost $18, you need to come to my table. You also need to provide glasses and bottle openers for your beer, come on guys!

My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law got their own stuff and it looked like this:

mvimg_20180810_190330.jpg

It’s a mushroom quiche and I know it tasted good because my mother-in-law finished the whole thing without even trying to pressure anyone else to take a bite. The flip-side of this is that I can’t give you any idea of what this tasted like. Sorry!

The three cool people at the table decided to share some plates and they came out one at a time:

mvimg_20180810_190659.jpg

These were small pieces of cheese but there was a huge variety of soft, hard, blue, and even two kinds of Scandinavian caramel cheese (top-middle and bottom-right), and they were so interesting and different from the usual (imagine that a babybell had a baby with dulce de leche).

mvimg_20180810_190944.jpg

The meatballs were very beefy with the flavor of red wine, and a thin puree that I was surprised to taste was not mashed potatoes.

MVIMG_20180810_191126.jpg

On the menu, it definitely, definitely said “potato bliniS.” Plural. But this is one. It was approximately the size of a standard cookie. It’s larger in this picture than it was in real life. We split it into thirds and it was quite sad. On the other hand, salmon roe + sour cream + red onion = mouth heaven. There was a disproportionate amount of those things too, so I just kind of piled them on my fork and hoped nobody saw me.

img_20180810_191129.jpg

The salmon is categorized as an entree, so it was significantly larger than the other dishes. This thing was carrot city. The fish was so rich and, for lack of a better flavor descriptor, salmony. The carrots still had a lot of firmness too. I couldn’t stop picking at this.

After these four things, I was satisfied but not full. My MIL and Grandma ordered individual desserts from the lovely-looking pastry case, and three of us ordered lattes which, when they arrived, were the tiny tiny versions I became accustomed to ordering (several times a day) throughout Iceland. The brownie was also ridiculously fudgy and dense (no picture because it was eaten so quickly).

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: I think I’d come back here if I wanted to have a luxurious, wine-fueled lunch or tiny coffee. The food was mostly excellent, but with some rookie mistakes.

Askale Cafe

I’ve clearly been jonesing for Ethiopian food lately. When my friend Kevin arrived in town after a red-eye flight, I insisted we stop here to refuel with spicy vegetarian goodness and coffee. I’ll keep this brief because it took both of us approximately 68 seconds to wolf down this meal. I surprised myself by ordering ful, the ultimate savory breakfast, as well as a latte.

MVIMG_20180810_123826.jpg

It took a long time to arrive, especially considering we were the only ones in the restaurant, but my meal arrived in this adorable little skillet with all the stuck-on crusties that I know will be impossible to wash off, so I know it came straight off the stove. It was pleasantly spicy but not overwhelming, and chock-full of beans, like a comforting chili. I’m not sure why it has never occurred to me to eat chili for breakfast–or to put an egg on top of my chili–but I think it’s high time I start. The bread was not housemade, but it was crusty and absorbent!

My latte was also flavorful and rich, which I expect from LITERALLY THE INVENTORS OF COFFEE. This makes me even more baffled by my unfortunate sludge-drinking experience at Abem Family Deli last weekend. I’m glad that Askale could make me whole again.

MVIMG_20180810_124130.jpg

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Askale Cafe is a real treat and a neighborhood gem. Don’t miss the breakfast.

New York Pizza [and Grilled Kabob!]

Situated on what once was a not-great corner of Florida Ave. and North Capitol, New York Pizza looks like a relic from the 80’s. I confess that I didn’t go inside since I figured I could get my food faster if they brought it to me at my house (or I’m just lazy). It was only recently that I noticed a sign advertising Indian and Pakistani food. This is DC–where the Chinese restaurants sell burgers and the pizza places sell kabobs. They even rebranded themselves!

mvimg_20180805_182031.jpg

Their pizza has, to put it lightly, middling reviews, plus Bacio is three blocks away, so I never even thought to come here. You can’t tempt me with greaseball pizza, nor with their questionably named NY Fish. No, only the siren song of lamb tikka could pull me in.

 

Because their website’s menu is different from their Grubhub menu, I called. I’m glad I did. Besides the two curry dishes, the veggie samosas grabbed my attention. “Sorry ma’am, we’re all out.” Falafel? “We’re out of that too.” That’s okay. I stuck with the two entrees, and my bathroom scale would ultimately thank me.

The car pulled up not 30 minutes later carrying our own little slice of heaven.

mvimg_20180805_182202.jpg

Lamb tikka. Great lamb flavor, pleasant spice, complimentary side salad, enough rice to make a dent in world hunger? Check, check, check, and check. The meat was slightly tough, but not overly chewy or fatty.

mvimg_20180805_182224.jpgThe chicken curry was less meat than it looked like due to the abundance of bones. On the other hand, the meat dropped off said bones with no effort and the sauce was rich while still packing a nice heat.

The sides that came with our meals were spinach and potatoes, and curry chickpeas. I enjoyed the spinach but it was more bitter and liquefied than your typical Indian palak, and the chickpeas were pleasantly earthy. They included an extra little container of rice, because I guess we didn’t have quite enough or something. And the bread…sweet baby Jesus. I have never had naan like this from anywhere. It was crustier and thickener than the typical naan, but also more flavorful, like a cross between naan and pizza dough. Come to think of it, it may have actually been the exact same thing as their pizza crust. Yeah…I’m pretty sure it was. Don’t care, it all sops up the sauce the same way. [Note: There were actually TWO huge pieces of pizza naan included] [Confession: I had to throw it in the trash can to stop myself from continuing to steal bites of it after dinner].

MVIMG_20180805_182141.jpg

Overall, this meal completely upended all my prejudices about New York Pizza. I feel like this place is that flamboyant kid in high school who joins the football team just to prove how not-gay he is when what he really wants to do is dance. Come out of the pizza-closet, guys! We see you in there and we love you for who you are! It’s way better than who you’re pretending to be!

Image result for free to be you and me

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Prepare to be fairly impressed, and prepare for leftovers. PS I was not even a little sad about not having samosas or falafel because this was still way too much food.

Abem Family Supermarket and Deli

I’ve lived around the corner for five years, so I’ve seen this piece of property change hands more than a marble in a shyster’s shell game, and I’ve seen it go from closed down, to an open but nearly-empty storefront that probably [read: definitely] housed a cockfighting ring in the back, to closed again, to a slightly less empty front that looks like it could be a money-laundering business but seems to be collectively owned by a very nice Ethiopian family. My husband and I generally refer to this place as “the Soviet market” because although they do stock a fair number of Ethiopian spice blends and some lesser-known candy bars, they never seem to have more than half the shelves full, and it’s always stuff we don’t want. I should also mention that I was once conned into buying a huge jar of Ethiopian spiced butter here that didn’t have a price tag but rang up as $28.99 (to my credit, though, I use that stuff all the time for cooking).

Now, the aforementioned nice Ethiopian family have been swearing up and down to me for at least a year that they are going to turn half the space into an Ethiopian cafe but aside from some empty fridges and day-old coffee, that plan never seemed to materialize. So imagine our surprise when, this morning, we received an email on the neighborhood listserv alerting us to their new brunch menu! We knew it was legit when we walked up and saw these Ethiopian-themed balloons.

mvimg_20180804_121747.jpg

We appeared to be the first customers. They’d decorated the restaurant space in a, let’s say, minimalist vein. The women working behind the food counter showed us big trays of their vegetarian offerings–the standard Ethiopian fare–and told us they also had tibs. We ordered both, along with a coffee. They were all set up for a traditional coffee ceremony to be held later this afternoon, so I would think that they would take more pride in their regular brew. Sidamo on H Street has totally mastered the art of good coffee for the masses. Fortunately, this cold, sludgy French vanilla nightmare was the low point of the meal.

MVIMG_20180804_123737.jpg

As you can see, the vegetarian platter had all the usual yums with some fun additions–carrots and green beans, and stewed kale replacing the traditional collards. And all of it was served cold (I asked one of the workers if this was an intentional choice and she responded that they had made everything last night, so…maybe?) If you are a fan of cold Chinese food or, as I have recently discovered, cold Thai curry, then cold Ethiopian food is for you! Even my husband the kale-hater liked their kale. The red lentils and yellow peas were both great, but the brown lentils were kind of bland.

MVIMG_20180804_123740.jpgHere’s the tibs. It was so much that we took home enough for one person’s lunch tomorrow. The meat was hot and mostly cooked well, with a few very chewy sections. It was served in a bowl of oil reminiscent of Sichuan hotpot. They gave us the dixie cup full of berbere, which we fully utilized, but would have worked better had it been added during cooking. I think maybe they were trying hard to cater to uninitiated tastes but as they always say: If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the Ethiopian restaurant.

Abem Family Deli also sells a variety of salads, boring sandwiches, and, bizarrely, tacos. Everyone knows that tacos are the official food of gentrification, so there’s some weird neighborhood stereotyping going on here. I may have to try some just to report back.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: Abem Family Deli is not the best Ethiopian food in town, but it’s definitely the closest to me! I will continue to support them periodically in hopes of more offerings, more hours, more tables, and better coffee.

=

Andrene’s Cafe

It’s a Thursday when I find myself returning to “up and coming” Kennedy Street for a place that’s been on my list since…well, since the last time I was sorely let down by a Jamaican carry-out (looking at you, Spice). During the summer, my husband frequently badgers me to come visit and bring him a tasty lunch, like his own personal Red Riding Hood, and it’s our last day before another vacation, so I needed a break.

mvimg_20180726_114915.jpg

Kennedy Street may be deserted during the day (and night–let’s be real), but inside Andrene’s it is hopping! The cashier manages to stay warm and friendly even while simultaneously taking my order, taking a phone order, calling out the food that’s ready, and gossiping with another West Indian man from the neighborhood. It’s pretty impressive. And, even though the combo menu specifies that there are no substitutions to the side orders of rice, plantains, and cabbage, she still gives me the option to change all of those. I leave with a bag, not knowing what magic is in store for me, and venture off through the woods…I mean…I-95…

I have to sit in traffic for close to an hour, so by the time arrive, I’m sure someone is about to comment about what big teeth I have because I am ready to eat anything that crosses my path. We pop the big platter in the microwave. Here’s how we made out for $27:

mvimg_20180726_125523-e1532633835726.jpg

mvimg_20180726_125527.jpg

Huge piece of coco bread, two beef patties, stewed green cabbage, rice and beans, plantains, oxtail, and jerk chicken. I will be upfront and let everyone know that we didn’t even come close to finishing this. The coco bread was mildly sweet, fluffy, and warm. The beef patties, although tepid by the time I arrived, were very savory with a sweet, flaky crust and a moist interior. The cabbage was a new thing for me. It was cooked so far that even Red Riding Hood’s toothless grandmother could have chewed it, but still had shape and a rich flavor. Plantains are always a winner in my book and these were no exception. The chicken was mostly moist with a few dry spots and a lot of bones, but had a good level of spice and a delicious sauce. The oxtail sauce was beyond delicious, and good for dipping bread in, although the meat itself was gristle-y in more than a few spots. Rice, as always, is rice, and there was a lot of it, although we barely ate any and still walked away from this meal overstuffed and with meat and bread left over.

Price: $10-15 per person.

Bottom Line: Andrene’s is good, and you can definitely get your money’s worth here, but I won’t rest until I find a truly awesome Jamaican restaurant. I know it’s out there.

Pluma

I don’t usually do breakfast at all, let alone breakfast out, but it was Wednesday, and I was desperately needing to take myself on a coffee date. And sometimes on dates, things just happen that we might later regret. In this case, food.

First of all, even since the last time I reviewed a place in Union Market, this place has changed significantly. I live basically around the corner and I didn’t even realize until last weekend all the hipster eateries and shops that have sprung up in between the Chinese butcheries. This whole area now smells like a weird mixture of pig blood and avocado toast (a menu option that appears–laughably–on the menus at both Pluma and Blue Bottle across the street).

I perused the pastries. I fretted over the menu. And then I settled on maybe the most unhealthy thing on the entire menu: the breakfast sammy. And a latte.

mvimg_20180725_090020.jpg

The latte:

Mellow, smooth, bitter, and creamy. Small, but at $4, still a better deal than the $7 paper-cup, too-cold POS latte I got last weekend across the street at Blue Bottle (it didn’t even have latte art!) This was a great drink to chill out with by the window with a good book.

 

 

The breakfast sammy includes green salsa, pork belly, and a runny egg served on Pluma’s fresh sourdough. In short, it puts other breakfast sandwiches to shame. The toasty sour bread held up okay to the wet salsa, but the real pleasure of this was in the thick, maple-y sweet slab of pork belly that, while not exactly being fork-tender, had a great crust around the edge that reminded me of a solid BBQ bark. And if you like your eggs as runny as possible, you’ve come to the right place.

mvimg_20180725_090800.jpg

So, like many dates, this one ended with a decision that wasn’t exactly the best, but that I don’t really regret either.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Mmmmm.

Stable

I have to say, my curiosity about Swiss food was motivated by my recent reading of chef Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir, which recounts his experience training in an Alpine hotel and attempting to modernize traditional Swiss dishes. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another Swiss restaurant, or met a Swiss immigrant, probably because who would ever want to leave a magical mountain paradise full of hot chocolate and sweaters and secret bank accounts?

We started with drinks and a cheese board. My standbad cocktail with watermelon vodka was refreshing but definitely not too sweet and even had a watermelon ice cube, and my mother-in-law’s apricot daiquiri was a good blend of bitter and tart. Our cheese board was intense. It reminded me of our experience in Belgium of ordering cheese in grams and, like the idiot Americans we are, having no idea the enormous quantity that would appear in front of us (“500 grams? That’s like…a small package, right?”). That is the only time I’ve eaten so much cheese that I would call it too much. Similarly, Stable’s board is one cheese but it’s a lot. Their house bread and butter are inexplicably amazing too.

mvimg_20180720_202650.jpg

My father-in-law had the veal. This is some serious meat and potatoes. The veal comes sliced thin, beautifully brown but still tender, in a creamy mushroom sauce. It was the kind of thing I couldn’t stop picking at, even when it was just mushrooms and gravy left.

mvimg_20180720_202757.jpg

 

 

My mother-in-law’s vol-au-vent (that’s a lot of hyphens) was crisp and buttery, with a side of peas that bore no resemblance to nasty, chalky frozen peas. The dumplings inside the pastry were rich and plush, with another creamy sauce.

 

My husband, after a lot of internal debate, ordered the spaghetti with pork picatta. Not his usual style, but it got a big thumbs-up from our server. He was not lying about that thumbs-up; the thin-cut fried pork was perfectly flavorful and this was not some shitty store-bought spaghetti.

mvimg_20180720_202723.jpg

Due to my aforementioned infatuation with Marcus Samuelsson and his repeated mention of the traditional Swiss rosti, I ordered this. I had no idea what I was going to get, and in my imagination it was some sort of stew? Maybe? A casserole? I was close. What I ended up getting was the world’s greatest drunk food, Switzerland’s answer to cheese fries.

mvimg_20180720_202751.jpg

It’s an enormous hashbrown topped with tomato, stinky melted cheese, and topped with speck. The potato was so crispy and perfectly seasoned, and the cheese was just enough to impart serious flavor without turning it into stinky sock city. This meal was not me, but it would definitely be perfect if you were somehow inexplicably already drunk at 6 p.m. I gave up after barely eating half, and the other half also worked well as my husband’s hangover breakfast.

We ordered a dessert of Schnapps, lattes, a chocolate mousse, and a creme brulee. Maybe if you like Schnapps you would be impressed by Stable’s collection. I can say we gave it an honest try. The coffee was good, but oh my god the chocolate mousse was unbelievable:

mvimg_20180720_210611.jpg

This picture does no justice to it. Rich, deep, bitter dark chocolate flavor, candied almonds, perfect whipped texture…this was incredible and I ate much more than my share of it. The creme brulee was deliciously creamy, for sure, but nothing could overshadow this mousse.

My biggest regret in coming here was that I didn’t make the special reservations necessary for Stable’s raclette service. That will have to be saved for a birthday or perhaps and time when I need a very large pick-me-up and the only thing that can help is a giant wheel of melted cheese.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Stable delivers an awesome experience with everything they serve. You can’t go wrong with anything, but these meals are not for the faint of heart, or the carb-avoiders.