Panino Gourmet

It was another lazy Sunday evening and once again I was charged with the impossible task of choosing food for dinner. “I don’t care what it is as long as it magically shows up at my house!” shouted my husband. We were both a little grumpy.

Fortunately, Uber Eats has entirely too many options, and none of the things that I had actually planned on eating. So it actually took me longer to decide where to order from than it did for my food to arrive at my house. I might want to seek help for my chronic indecisiveness but I’m not sure how I’d ever choose a counselor. [Shrug].

To make a long story short, I chose Panino Gourmet. My husband went with the Cubano and I ordered the ever-so-slightly not-a-Cubano Uruguayan specialty called the Chivito. Here’s the Cubano:

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It was cheesy and had ample meats and pickles. The bread, on the other hand, was lacking. The chili cheese fries didn’t travel well and were completely congealed by the time they arrived, but this is no fault of Panino Gourmet. They were more cheese than chili.

The Chivito also had the flavorful pork tenderloin but added a very satisfying mix of olives, bacon, hard-boiled egg, mayo, and veggies. The bread was the same but not grilled, and didn’t hold up that well to the wet ingredients, but it was still incredibly delicious. I ordered the side salad, and as lame as this sounds, it was probably the best side salad I’ve received from a take-out restaurant. Quality.

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We also ordered two of their house sauces: the jalapeno diablo and the red pepper mayo. We didn’t have anything in mind to actually use these sauces on, but my husband insisted. They were both fantastic, and the jalapeno was actually Central American spicy instead of gringo-spicy. These two were just wasted potential since we didn’t know what to add them to. I put some jalapeno diablo on my sandwich, which improved it. I would love to see Panino Gourmet create some original flavor combos using their sauce.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Panino Gourmet is tasty enough to eat again, especially if you reealllllllly don’t want to leave your house.

Colada Shop

If I were a smarter person, I might have tried not walking to 14th Street in 95 degree weather. Nor sitting outside. But I guess now I got the full Havana experience at Colada Shop, yet another cutesy place that combines my two favorite things: coffee and cocktails. 11:45 a.m. on a Tuesday is not too early for me to drink when I’m on summer vacation. Actually, maybe Colada Shop has my three most favorite things: coffee, cocktails, and pork.

My friend agreed to go splitsies with me, and I’m glad she did because the Cubano is enormous. I ate half and am not sure how I’m going to eat dinner in five hours. The bread was perfect, with a nice crunch, and the mustard was prevalent. The shredded pork was cooked well but kind of bland. What did they even do to pork to make it not-flavorful?! In general, I’d say this sandwich was good but could have used 25% more of everything. I’m not even sure I tasted pickles.

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I finished up with a mojito (yes, at 11:45. Don’t judge me) and two pastelitos: the savory piccadillo and the guava-cheese. The mojito was small, standard, but half-off thanks to the Teacher Passport program. I’ll just choose to not complain. There are lots of other people who had to go to work today and couldn’t spend late morning sipping rum cocktails in short shorts. Suckas!

The piccadillo pastry had the classic salty-sweet combination from the meat and raisins, and the guava-cheese was sweet without being cloying, but they both left something to be desired.

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I picked up an iced cafe con leche on my way out in an attempt to beat the heat on my walk home (spoiler: it didn’t work). The coffee was probably the best part of lunch, though! It was rich and nutty but not super strong.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: You could do worse than Colada Shop in terms of coffee, sandwiches, or general vibe. I wish I had gotten to try one of their more creative cocktails, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Ghibellina

It’s taken me an embarrassing amount of time to actually get here, due in no small part to the inflated price tag and the main offerings of pasta and pizza, which I am generally not particularly enamored of. But! It was my mother-in-law’s birthday, and cheese and pizza (and cheese pizza) are kind of her things, so here we go!

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We ordered drinks–some standard IPA’s and the bicicletta rossa cocktail for me (dry and herbal)–and their cheese board. Since the untimely demise of Sona creamery (RIP, never forget), I don’t know where one could find a better cheese board than this. They clearly chose these carefully as they were all very different, but all well-complemented by the fig jam and all tasty in their own right. I was particularly fond of the truffle cheese and the soft goat, which was extremely mild and melty.

For my main meal, I ordered the kale salad. It had a nice tang of citrus and the polenta croutons were unique and delicious, although I think Ghibellina of all places could step it up with the cheese on this. It tasted like Kraft parmesan from a can and it coated everything. Why?

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My husband ordered the squid ink spaghetti with soft shell crab. This was my one wish for him. I grew up in California where soft shell crab (and tiny East Coast crabs in general) are unheard of, and now eating an entire crab with the shell on feels both exotic and totally barbaric, and I secretly love it. The spaghetti itself had a nice chew to it and the crab was very flavorful and crispy. The whole dish was made 150% better with the addition of house-dried red pepper. Definitely demand that they bring you this.

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Ghibellina was offering a daily fish special of pan-seared branzino with quinoa and cherry tomatoes, and this was my father-in-law’s pick. The whole thing was delicious but definitely had the air of being too healthy for this place (and I ordered a damn salad!)

I was shocked to see that my mother-in-law ordered…drumroll please…a cheese pizza! Their crust is really soft and chewy, but also airy in a nice way. The cheese is definitely quality. Since she ordered it without the spicy pickled peppers on top, they brought them out on the side, and these made a boring cheese pizza vastly more interesting, although it still never would have been my pick with so many others (and optional toppings) on the menu. On the other hand, the giant scissors that Ghibellina gives you to cut your own slices and/or potentially murder someone are pretty great.

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All in all, we got a good meal and I’m glad we made the trip. The place is gorgeous, the service was impeccable, and the pasta and cheese were stand-outs.

Price: $50 per person.

Bottom line: Ghibellina is fun and has a wide variety of pizzas to please your favorite pizza eater.

Provision No. 14

Guys, GUYS. I am so excited to talk about Provision No. 14. This was a random google maps search find, so even better that it ended up being awesome. Let’s start with ambiance: Provision No. 14 feels hip and chic, with a widely stocked bar right when you walk in and gorgeous, homey decor.

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We were immediately informed that it was happy hour until 8 (!!!) and that included $3 off all their appetizers and cocktails, and great prices on a wide array of draft beers and wines. Everyone was happy with their drink selection. I had a rye cocktail that was rye-y and cocktail-esque. My wonderful dining companions were all satisfied with their drinks. This was shaping up well.

Among the table, what was ordered included: brussels sprouts (obviously, as ordering brussels sprouts tends to be my family’s M.O.), bulgogi tacos, crab cake sliders, short rib tots, the pear salad with salmon added (not a bad price!), and fried chicken with funnel cake. Bonus: If you can think of anything with less nutritional value than fried chicken with funnel cake, I’d like to hear it.

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As far as the small plates go: Brussels sprouts were crispy, well-seasoned, and sauced. They were savory and delectable. I thought the bulgogi tacos were incredible, although my husband complained that the beef was slightly chewy. The crab cake sliders were chock-full of crab meat. I’m not sure what else was in there but it doesn’t matter because crab. Short rib tots are a good and bad because they were ridiculously good but this was an effort in sheer laziness because anybody could combine potatoes, beef, and cheese and make it taste delicious. I also feel like they were trying hard not to call this poutine but it would have been better with fries instead of tots. Also, I think I just answered my own question about finding a less healthy food than chicken and funnel cake.

Spoiler alert: I was the one who ordered the pear salad. The pears were not quite ripe but I appreciated the light vinaigrette dressing as well as their liberal use of fresh fennel (basically my favorite licorice-tasting root vegetable, in case you hadn’t noticed). Fried shallots are also a winner. My salmon was cooked a perfect medium-well (I’m old-school like that) and complemented the flavors well.

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Another spoiler alert: my mother-in-law was the one who ordered the carb bomb known as fried chicken and funnel cake. I mean, it was fried chicken and fried dough; what’s not to love? It was served with two dipping sauces. One was clearly maple syrup and the other was a mystery sauce that tasted like it could have been just raw funnel cake batter. I stand behind my valuation of this meal as the lowest nutritional value; at least tater tots have potatoes and potatoes have vitamins!

Price: $30 per person.

Bottom line: Provision No. 14 was a winner in every regard. This will go on the updated favorites list for sure.

Honorable mention goes to the broken parking meter that allowed me to park at 14th and W without paying!

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Ancient Rivers

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If you’re hip and with it, as I am, you might recognize the exterior of Ancient Rivers and think, “Hey, wait a second! It’s Eatonville with a crappy vinyl sign!” And you would be correct. Ancient Rivers is just Eatonville with the most minor of decor changes. I think they put about five minutes of thought into their decorating scheme here, but the decorations aren’t exactly why we were here.

When we arrived, we were told it was Happy Hour until 7 and all cocktails–ALL COCKTAILS–were $5. “They’re going to be watered down!” we moaned, then ordered them anyway. Long story short, we actually hit a second round before happy hour ended and were able to try a slightly embarrassing number of their house cocktails. My favorites were the Al-kindi, which had the pungent smokiness of mezcal with a pleasant sweetness, and the Nile, which tasted exactly how it purported: spicy and gingery. We were wrong about them being watered down; although it took an awfully long time to receive our drinks and they weren’t all winners, they were definitely made fabulously. Not quite sure how they can manage to sell these drinks for $5 apiece and still stay afloat, but that’s their problem.

We ended up ordering a total of seven mezze, which may have been a bit of a mistake. I always feel like tapas-style restaurants mean that I can eat exactly the right amount without having to finish a huge entree, when it reality it means that I will invariably slightly under-order and then compensate by asking for three more things, which end up being two things too many. Anyway, enough about my lifelong battle with Friday-night binge eating, here’s a picture of the first round:

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The meat dolmas had the classic spiced meat with tart, oily grape leaf exterior. The libne b zayt was so delicious, just a giant bowl of creamy, cheesy, yogurty goodness to scoop up with their plush, warm pita. The cheese fatayer was doughy and soft with a well-spiced cheese filling. Kind of boring, but hey, it’s cheese and bread and I’ve certainly never complained about this combination. But seriously, dat cauliflower. Spicy, crispy, and just the perfect texture, with a thin harissa to boot. I could eat this all day. And then…our merguez sausage arrived. How did I ever live without this sausage? How did I ever spend fifteen years of my life without any sausage? Is there a more perfect food anywhere? The merguez was one of the greats, though; all spicy, lamby goodness, pine nuts, and onions.

20171027_191529.jpg Next, we went for the kibbeh–yumyum meatballs in yogurt sauce–as well as the red pepper hummus. As you can see, Ancient Rivers doesn’t skimp on the pita. In fact, though you can only see two enormous baskets of pita pictured here, they brought us a total of three. Is there such a thing as too much pita? I’d ordinarily say no, but this was maybe slight overkill..? The hummus was good but not a star by any means. But that’s only because it was completely overshadowed by all the other great things we got.

I am not one to pass up a solid dessert, and I am really glad I didn’t. Ancient Rivers offered a slice of kunafeh that was basically the size of my head and at least an inch and a half thick of gooey, melty cheese. The top was not as crispy and honey-soaked as I like, but it was topped with a pistachio crumble and was laced with cardamom, two flavors I truly appreciate together. How can my husband hate chesecake but be totally fine with this, a cake that is just a huge block of cheese? I will never know the answer to this, but I won’t complain, as long as I get to keep eating sweetened cheese for dessert.

Service was slow, but ended up being totally worth the wait.

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Ancient Rivers is a hidden gem, if by “hidden” you mean “encased in a huge, conspicuous building on one of the busiest stretches of road in DC, but advertised only via cheap vinyl sign.” It has solid Middle Eastern specialties with decent portions for an actually reasonable price. Come here if you’re thinking about Zaytinya but are okay trading a small difference in quality for a huge difference in price. Or maybe you just couldn’t get a table at Zaytinya, I know how it is.

Doi Moi

I hadn’t heard of this place when I passed by it on the way to yoga a few weeks ago, but I added it to my to-eat list, and tonight was the night!

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Doi Moi is best described as Americanized Southeast Asian with no particular bent. Thai? Vietnamese? Nobody knows. But the menu looked tasty when I perused it online, and it appears to change up regularly, which I appreciate.  Especially for a small plates type of restaurant where you end up ordering a sizable chunk of the menu each time, variety is key. Doi Moi definitely has that.

The beer and wine menu was also extensive and respectable. I got the Captain Lawrence Passionfruit Gose, and it was not the only excellent beer on the list. There were also a handful of house cocktails but I went a little overboard on alcohol last night so I was trying to take it easy.

doimoi3We ordered five things for the table: the kimchi with pineapple, green papaya salad (always one of my Thai favorites), sweet corn fritters, pork steam buns, and the rabbit curry. We were warned that the papaya was on the spicy side and in response, we made it very clear that this sounded great.doimoi4.jpg

Everything came crazy fast. Kimchi came out first, and it was sour but not spicy at all, and the pineapple was….ambiguous? Even looking for it, I couldn’t taste it. Then were the corn fritters: sweet, crispy, and  flavorful, with a nice basil sauce to dip it in (though not nearly enough). Next came the pork buns. For me, this was the highlight. The pork was well-cooked and flavorful and the buns melted in your mouth. The papaya salad was basic. And I mean that in the slangy, basic bitch kind of way. It looked right but it tasted like something Sarah Palin would make for a church potluck. If the waitress felt like she had to warn us about this, I wonder who their usual clientele is. Green papaya should be spicy as well as savory-salty, with plenty of fish sauce and peanut and tomato. This didn’t exist. It was covered in Thai fingerhot chilis, which, completely contrary to their name, are spicy only to your grandma (Your grandma. Not my grandma. My grandma is a master of Tandoori chicken and my other grandma makes killer Indonesian food).

I’m willing to overlook the misstep in green papaya-land, though, because the rabbit curry was fabulous. Again, it was not spicy, but it certainly wasn’t bland. It was savory, coconutty, and with plentiful rabbit meat. My only complaint is that, due to inherent sauciness, it was not great for sharing. Our table looked like a murder scene after trying to split this up. We ended up just slurping up the curry from the main bowl with our individual spoons.

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Finally, two of us ordered the Vietnamese coffee, which was made in an individual pour-over style with condensed milk on the bottom. This was the perfect end to the meal.

Price: $30-35 per person

Bottom line: I’d probably come here again. The food was high-quality and the service was great, but all diners should be forewarned that this is not a hole-in-the-wall Thai place that doesn’t give a shit about your gringo-baby tastebuds. Doi Moi cares very much about not offending your lame American palate. If you want spicy, go to Mandalay. If you want a big variety and a killer rabbit curry, go to Doi Moi.