Royal Nepal

Before I begin, a warning about the parking situation here. We pulled into the lot next door, next to an abandoned strip mall. By coincidence, we parked next to my best friend and her husband, who were meeting us here for the kind of mildly-spicy and vegetable-forward cuisine that they can’t find in their native West Virginia. The parking lot to Royal Nepal is completely blocked off for no apparent reason, so we all felt it was reasonable to park in this lot despite the warnings about the enforcement of towing. We’ll come back to this later.

My friend and I both ordered the same house cocktail. I wasn’t intending to drink on a Wednesday night but you can’t put the words “walnut bitters” and “cinnamon syrup” in the same sentence without attracting me. It was, predictably, amazing. And also a little too strong, if that’s even a thing. This drink may have colored the rest of my opinions of Royal Nepal just a little bit.

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Because my best friend is a vegetarian, we asked if they had any meatless momo. Our server first responded that unfortunately, they didn’t, but after he brought our drinks out, he let us know that he had checked and the chef could actually make some. We ordered those and the yak momo because when in Nepal and also I’ve never eaten yak before. When he returned, not only did our server have the two plates of momo, but he brought us out their crispy kale dish just because. This is service that I’ve only experienced at, like, Plume and Masseria. We all wolfed this down. It was crispy and had the tang of yogurt, sweetness from the tamarind, and pungency from fried onions. I don’t go to Nepalese restaurants to order kale, but maybe I should start…

The momo were also quite delicious. I couldn’t tell you what was in the vegetable momo (I’ll blame this on the cocktail), but it was rich and soft, and they were served with two dipping sauces that were slightly spicy and tomato-y, like a Mexican salsa. The yak meat was finely minced with a mild sweetness. I could never have told you it was yak meat.

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We decided to order as a group, and picked the vegetarian thali, plus wild boar curry and chicken tikka masala. Who doesn’t like tikka masala?

The thali included five dishes: cauliflower and potato curry, which was fairly mild, eggplant curry that was out of this world delicious and fragrant, a sauteed spinach that was flavorful and garlicky but a little too salty, a bean dish that reminded me of dal makhani and had a slight spice, and more of their spicy house pickles. It was served with a huge plate of rice and vegetables.

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Next we come to the meat dishes:

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The wild boar (right) was rich and meaty, aromatic but not super spicy, and the meat itself tasted like a leaner pork. This was an all-around crowd-pleaser among us meat eaters. The chicken tikka masala (left) was my absolute favorite, and maybe my favorite tikka masala of all time, owing to the awesome addition of anise which was not overly pungent but still brought this classic to a new plane.

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My bff is all about dessert and there was some disagreement in which I flat-out vetoed chocolate lava cake. We ordered the yogurt sikarni. It was very perfumey on account of the cardamom, and tarter than I feel like is appropriate for dessert, but it tasted very fresh and clean.

Oh–back to the parking situation. We left the restaurant to find that our cars were the only two left in the lot. “Oh, it’s just late and everyone has left already,” we said. Then we saw the guy screaming at the tow truck in the street. It seems that Royal Nepal is our lucky charm, but be forewarned: don’t park here. It may not end well for you.

Price: $35 per person for way too much food.

Bottom line: Royal Nepal falls into the category of Don’t-Pass-Up. It’s the perfect hole in the wall with all the service and interest of a fancy pants place.

Dorjee Momo

We arrived at Dorjee Momo at 5:05 and didn’t see a line, so we assumed we were ahead of the game. They don’t take reservations except for a 4-person, $45-per-head hot pot meal and we weren’t doing that for a regular Friday night. We found out from yelling to the server setting tables on the deck above us that they didn’t open until 5:30 but we should definitely stick around to hold on to our spot. “Ten more minutes until we change your life!” taunted another employee who was setting up downstairs. Change my life? Challenge accepted! That’s when the porch started to fill up with other potential diners. Don’t worry, I was very forthcoming in passive-aggressively letting the other people in line know exactly who had arrived first. I intended to be the first to walk in that door and I probably would have trampled anyone who tried to stop me.

Then I found out that the fancy hot pot people get priority seating and they were all there: three whole groups of them! I was getting nervous. I’d been warned that there was very limited space inside and besides, I really wanted to sit on the deck, like, really bad. But friends–never fear! There are only three reserved hot pot tables and a reasonable amount of seating to go around. And in case you’re wondering…

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…yes, we did snag the four seats on the balcony and yes, it was just as incredible as it sounds. Besides a fantastic view in beautiful April weather, the beverage pictured here is the #girlboss (their hashtag, not mine), a tart vodka-basil-yuzu concoction that tasted like drinking a flower, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.

We ended up ordering six dishes from the menu–two veggie and four that were meat-based.

 

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First up: chive momo. These were fantastic and not at all bitter from the chives like we expected them to be. The signature sauce that Dorjee Momo uses is spicy rather than flat-out hot. It has some of the numbing qualities of the Sichuan peppercorns, but it’s a balanced flavor instead of that uncomfortable mouthful-of-novocaine sensation that I’ve had elsewhere. We also had the lamb momo, which had a similar profile from the spices but had a good partnership with the lamb, which was moist and meatball-esque.

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The sunflower buns (left) were heavenly. The bun part was so soft but it was covered in crunchy fried garlic and filled with tender spinach. The sauce was pesto-like, which was unexpected. The pickle plate on the right might look sad to you. It did to me too, at first. But when you take into consideration that I literally have no idea what half of the things are on this plate, that’s probably pretty good, right? Each vegetable is also marinated in its own special pickle brine to complement the individual flavors. The stick-like thing on the bottom right is not celery, but it was tangy and salty. Pickled garlic is always a solid choice. There was cauliflower, bitter melon, lotus, an egg, and a really unique citrus rind.

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The Beef Shapta pulled us in with promises of 48-hour marinated beef. It also didn’t disappoint. Once again just mildly spicy, the beef was tender, and the softness was offset by crispy fried yuca.

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I saved the best for last! The coconut beef curry was highly recommended by our waitress and we almost didn’t get it. That would have been an actual crime against flavor. It looks bad, mostly because its appearance is highly reminiscent of my recent experience eating special Salvadoran spleen stew (I didn’t know that it was spleen when it was served to me and now the horrible smell haunts me). Where was I? Oh yeah…so this beef curry, although beautiful, was not the most appetizing thing to me due to my personal emotional trauma, but it was quick to make up for that. This was like beef therapy. It was rich and coconutty, spicy in a way that would not be unbearable to your ordinary layperson, and had a texture somewhere between ground beef and short rib. This was a don’t-miss dish, as were the sunflower buns.

We passed up on dessert, vegan ice cream, because it was vegan ice cream. This is my main suggestion for improvement for Dorjee Momo.

Side note: we spied on the hot pot tables inside, which looked AMAZING. I’m saving up that idea so that I can peer pressure my bestie into coming here for my next birthday.

Price: $45 per person.

Bottom line: Dorjee Momo promised to change my life. They did. They will change yours too. Just make sure you get there at 5:00 and bring your brass knuckles on the very real chance that you have to fight for your seat. I would do jail time for this place.

Bistro 1521

Since Bad Saint was the inspiration for this blog with their horrible, salty, over-hyped, line-causing disaster of a restaurant, I wanted to give Filipino cuisine a second chance (and have another restaurant to share the “Filipino” tag for the sake of fairness to the people of the Philippines).

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Quick side note: if you think, “Oh yeah, let me just drive to Arlington on a Sunday night, no big deal,” you should probably check what time of year it is. If it’s the first weekend of April, just lock your doors, turn out your lights, and hide under your bed until Cherry Blossom Fest is over. Don’t even think about going to Arlington. Also, if you plan to go to Arlington in general, just don’t. The parking is a nightmare and nothing good ever comes from this place (except tortas).

My dining companions had already ordered appetizers by the time I arrived. We had the lumpiang shanghai (egg rolls) and ukoy (veggie and shrimp fritters). I appreciated the crispy simplicity of the egg rolls. They were mostly shell with a small amount of filling, but it was well-seasoned regardless. The fritters were enormous and served with a thin, spicy-sour sauce that worked really well. On the other hand, they also weirdly included shell-on shrimp. They were delicious but why? Why do I have to pick apart a fritter in order to shell my own seafood? Why am I even paying for not-quite-prepared food? It’s even worse in fritter form.

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When we ordered, it turns out that the people in our group fell into two camps: the people who wanted spicy pork tenderloin and the people who wanted chicken on top of noodles. Our table of five ordered two of each of these things, plus I had a mango salad and we got an order of chicken adobo fried rice for the table. My husband ordered his bicol express pork dish extra spicy, as per usual.

First, let me talk about the mango salad. I guess I just assumed this would be a salad that was actually made from mangoes, not a salad with a few sad julienne slices of mango on top. Disappointing. Not even worth posting.

The bicol express was plentiful and looked like this:

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It had a good texture and a very unique flavor, which I will attribute to a seafoodiness from shrimp paste. On the other hand, I hesitate to call this “extra spicy,” and maybe it’s not even fair to call it “spicy,” which is the warning they offer on the menu. As compared to the regular spicy version, the extra-spicy had a couple extra chilis thrown in last-minute. They weren’t even super-spicy chilis. So spicy was not its forte, but it was satisfying.

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The chicken bihon looked and tasted like your typical chicken-noodle-vegetable amalgamation. The chicken was kind of dry, the dish was composed primarily of vermicelli noodles. I was fairly underwhelmed by this too.

The standout of the meal for me was the 1521 fried rice, which I’m actually shocked that I liked considering that I think rice is the number one most useless food to ever exist. But damn, throw some chicken adobo and some hard-boiled egg in there and I’m all over that noise. One again, pretty dry chicken but the oiliness of the rice made up for it.

The unsung hero of Bistro 1521 was the cocktail selection, though. We were all very satisfied with an interesting mix of liquors and authentic juice flavors, and everyone had a second round. I bet this place does a mean happy hour.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Well, it’s a lot cheaper and less salty than Bad Saint, so if for some reason you absolutely need to eat Filipino food and nothing else will quite cut it, this might be a decent option. Otherwise, come for the apps and beverages, then fill your belly at one of the other fine establishments that I’m sure exists somewhere in Arlington. Can’t help you with that one.

Momo Yakitori

“Yay!” I exclaimed one day about two weeks ago. “There’s a new Japanese restaurant open next to Nido!” Well, it turns out that that new restaurant IS Nido. So I was both depressed about the loss of a place that served delicious octopus and excited about the opening of a new place to try. Spring and rebirth and all that. I’m trying to be zen about this, okay?!

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Momo Yakitori didn’t change anything on the exterior or the interior, which is okay because it’s adorable and full of floral Spanish tile. Well, to be fair, they did change one very important thing on the interior, but I’ll get to that later.

They don’t have a whole lot of cocktails or beers (and what beers they do offer are all obscure Japanese imports, and therefore overpriced), so my husband went with the Fossi merlot (which cost $8 and he loved. Like I said, we have very low standards when it comes to wine) and I checked out their special cocktail. They have a good selection of sake and shochu, and my wonderful cocktail had plum shochu with grapefruit and prosecco. It was tart, fruity, and super refreshing.

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The ordering is done a la carte like sushi, and with little explanation. After probing our server, we ended up ordering the “Lucky 7”–basically seven random skewers, just so we could get a variety. We also had the cucumber salad, the pumpkin, and the maitake mushrooms.

Round 1: cucumbers. Tart, crunchy, pickled, refreshing, and slightly spicy. This was a good size starter for two people. After we finished, they showed up with a big bowl of complementary cabbage salad as a palate cleanser, which again was plain but nicely vinegary and crisp.

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Round 2: Vegetables. These didn’t actually come next, but I want the meat to be the piece de resistance. They were small, but they were also, like, $3 each (as compared with last night’s overpriced adventure at Chloe in which vegetables cost $16 each). The maitake was great. In the last couple of years, this has become my favorite mushroom, hands down. It was grilled to perfection, served in a thin, soy-based sauce. The pumpkin was tender but pretty plain.

Round 2.5: Chicken. I apologize that I can’t fully explain each of these as there were both way too many things as well as it being chef’s choice, which means that I just don’t even know what I put in my mouth.

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From front to back: pearl onions, thighs with shio sauce, spicy chicken meatballs, something else, duck hearts, another chicken thing, and chicken breast with shisito pepper sauce. Everything was good. I liked the pepper sauce best, as well as the chicken meatballs. Have you ever had even a decent chicken meatball? I didn’t think so. This one was a little spicy, but it had a great texture. My husband liked the unknown skewer second from the back. Like the others, it was lightly sauced. It’s nice to eat chicken that’s not cooked to death (I’m as guilty as anyone of doing this). A quick note about the duck hearts: they were heart-y in texture but lacked that nasty iron flavor. It’s not a thing I would go out of my way to eat again, but I ain’t mad.

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When it was time to finish up, they recommended their dessert option: a marshmallow skewer with pumpkin sauce. We also ordered a shot of the our server’s favorite shochu. I can’t even explain how good this marshmallow was. The pumpkin puree was the right level of sweet and the marshmallow was crisp and caramelized, and a good size for sharing. The shochu was a nice touch too.

So, I promised that the interior had changed in a notable way, so here it is: Momo made a solid Japanese-style upgrade to their bathroom:

…a fully electric Japanese bidet! Now, I am a member of the cult of the bidet, but this place just took it to a new level. Firstly, the toilet seat was heated. This was a pleasant surprise. Secondly, my home bidet is so high-pressure and SO COLD. This bidet was automatic and warmed, and included a blow-dry option. The whole experience at Momo Yakitori was fabulous, but this bathroom was just the icing on the cake. Do yourself a favor and use this bathroom.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: RIP Nido, welcome Momo! I’ll be back here, for the food, the service, and the great pacing of the meal.

BOTTOM line: Use the bathroom.

Chiko

In what may be the perfect storm of a Friday night, my husband and I ended up with a private date night, a workout we desperately needed, and an ACC Championship basketball game we absolutely had to watch. So rather than check out Chiko for ourselves in person as we had intended, we got it delivered. Same-same, right?

I’m a little confused by Chiko, and even more so because I didn’t see it with my own eyes. Is it fine dining? Their menu seems like they’re trying. Is it fast-casual? Delivery service says yes. To complicate matters further, their take-out food comes in cheapo cardboard containers, yet they offer a $50 per person tasting menu at their chef’s table, which I think would be totally reasonable and cool, if only Chiko weren’t the restaurant equivalent of one child standing on another child’s shoulders wearing a trench coat and a fake mustache.

However, as previously stated, the menu has some interesting options, so we actually had trouble narrowing it down, especially without the sage guidance of staff members. We settled on the chopped brisket, the kimchi stew with pork belly, wok blistered Chinese broccoli, and Sichuan spicy cucumbers (aka pickles). Caviar delivered our food right in the middle of the window they gave us, so plus one for them!

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Descriptions clockwise from top left:

The kimchi stew was my favorite. It was slightly lacking in pork belly, but what it had was soft and flavorful. I particularly enjoyed the “rice cake,” which reminded me of plain mochi, just a gummy sponge for the spicy sauce. The broth was not terribly spicy, but it got the job done.

Here is some rice. It’s white. It’s cooked. Okay fine, I didn’t even eat any of this. We’ve all eaten rice and I challenge anyone to describe it better than I just did. Why does rice even exist? For people who have taken vows of poverty and aren’t allowed to take pleasure in food? Rice makes me sad and I resent when restaurants include it for free with my meal, like they’re doing me some favor instead of just creating more tupperware trash and ten cents worth of the cheapest staple carbohydrate in existence.

Sichuan spicy pickles: Tangy vinegar, pickling herbs, what’s not to love? Again, not “spicy” in the truest sense of the word, but a nice addition to the meal.

The Chinese broccoli was perfect. The dish made good use of the finely-sliced stems without being too bitter. It had a wonderfully umami flavor, and the veggies were plentiful.

Finally, the chopped brisket. It was smoky with a slight kick from hot peppers. It was served over yet more rice, but at least this rice had soaked up some of the sauce and juices. The meat was cut small enough to be quite tender. The soft-boiled egg didn’t translate well to delivery food but that’s not Chiko’s fault.

To go with this meal, I ordered some beer from my fridge:

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My husband and I both drank lime gose beers and the Dogfish was the clear winner. Sorry Avery, this beer was flavorless. Dogfish had a little tang and good citrus flavor. I would drink it while vegging on my couch again.

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Now that I write that price out, it’s pretty steep for what may or may not be a slightly upscale take-out joint. But maybe it’s actually cheap for a fancy restaurant? Unclear. I was happy but not super-impressed overall. It’s worth a visit for something new.

Dolan

From the moment I noticed Dolan on Google maps, I knew I had to go there. I’ve had Uyghur food once before–in Arlington–and although it was somewhat lacking that time, the cuisine felt like it had potential. I love cultural mashups! Just like how eating Burmese food at Mandalay always feels like the greatest ever combination of Thai and Indian with a little je ne sais quoi thrown in, my thinking on Uyghur food was this: Afghan + Chinese = Delicious! How could it not be? Dolan claims to be “the best Uyghur food in DC” which, even before eating there, I suspected may have been like the way my grandma always referred to me as her “favorite granddaughter.” Her other six grandchildren are boys.

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I invited my friend Amanda to tag along. She lived in Western China and generally knows her shit. About everything. She is also a spicy food enthusiast.

My husband and I arrived early, so we grabbed a drink at the bar. He had their house Old Fashioned, and I had a drink that included vodka and green tea. Their liquor prices were reasonable and the drinks were…about what you’d expect given the price. It got the job done, I guess.

Bonus for Dolan: their restaurant is adorable. Their fireplace and fake lamppost made me feel like I was simultaneously inside and outside in…Paris, maybe? It was very homey and cute.

So, back to the food. What happens when you have two modern, assertive women eating dinner with their accommodating spouses is that the menfolk don’t even need to crack the menu. I might feel slightly bad about steamrolling every single small-plates meal we ever eat, but what can I say? I have superior taste. You’re welcome, husbands. Amanda and I ordered korma chop, pumpkin manta, fried green beans, and the goshnan, which bills itself as “Uyghur pizza.” I crossed  my fingers that it wasn’t actually just pizza and took the plunge.

Without further ado, here is our meal:

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The green beans were oniony and well-cooked but I could have made this at home. I guess I was expecting the incredible Sichuan dry-rubbed green beans we get at Panda Gourmet, and this was just regular green beans. Similar to the alcohol, it did the job. By which I mean that it was green and it was edible. On the right of the photo is the korma chop, which had the semi-numbing spice of Sichuan peppercorns and really well-cooked lamb. This dish was the highlight of the meal for sure. Above those dishes you will notice a tiny bowl of rice. We didn’t need much rice, but it somehow seems more bizarre that they gave us such a small quantity. Why even bother at that point?

The pumpkin manta were alright. I don’t have major regrets about ordering them since they sounded interesting but they weren’t well-seasoned and were generally poorly-constructed for dumplings. They were larger than bite-size, begging to be cut in half, but all the filling fell out as soon as you cut into them as if to mock you. The whole idea was badly-conceived.

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The goshnan looked great and tasted pretty good. It was the first thing that seemed more Afghan than Chinese. Actually, it seemed more like a shepherd’s pie than a pizza, and the pastry crust was soft and deliciously greasy. The meat was good and spiced well.

When we finished these four things, we all agreed that we were still slightly hungry, and, after not being hooked by anything on the dessert menu [side note: two nights without dessert? I don’t even know who I am anymore!], begrudgingly decided to order the lamb kabobs in a last-ditch effort to fill our bellies.

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They were solid. The meat was, for the most part, very tender and flavorful, but the seasoning wasn’t particularly interesting. It was the perfect summation of this meal: fine, edible, and a gustatory snooze-fest. Come on, Uyghurs! Just because China tried to quash your culture doesn’t mean you have to suppress all the flavor in your food. I thought I was going to be transported on a magic carpet ride to a whole new world of flavor but I really just got some bland lamb.

Price: $25 per person, which at least seemed completely reasonable.

Bottom line: Dolan might be the best–or only–Uyghur food in DC. And maybe I’m not an expert on Uyghur food after eating it twice. But I feel like you could do better than this without trying very hard. Step 1: Pick up some actual delicious green beans from Panda Gourmet. Step 2: Grab some kabobs from Shamshirry. Step 3: Profit.

Kochix

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Kochix is nestled in a little corner of no-man’s-land between Bloomingdale, Shaw, Ledroit Park, and Truxton Circle that I often walk through while trying to nonchalantly look behind me. I’ve borne witness to more than one arrest at the bus stop across the street. As a result, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked past this little neighborhood spot and thought “Ummmmm no.” Even walking in here to pick up my order, it reminded me of traveling in South America, where every meal is an adventure in Should I really be eating this right now? Their storefront and their menu are barebones to the point of looking like a money laundering scheme, but the inside smells of amazing fry batter, and I felt like 4.5 stars on google don’t lie.

My husband and I split an order of yaki mandu, a bulgogi bap, and a small order of wings, which we were tipped off to order with “very hot” sauce as a special request.

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It turns out that google stars do lie. The mandu (bottom center) were nicely fried but fairly bland and only lightly stuffed with veggies. They needed a sauce and some more filling. The bulgogi bap (right) featured nice, soft beef and lots of well-cooked onions and cabbage on top of sticky rice, but it too was disappointingly plain. I threw some hot sauce on that puppy and it improved immensely. It could have used a fried egg too. There was nothing wrong with it, but I should never be able to make an ethnic dish better than people of that ethnicity who own a restaurant that serves said ethnicity’s food. This was sadly the case with the bulgogi.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kochix only really shined in the execution of the wings. They were fried to crunchy perfection. The meat inside was moist. The special extra-hot sauce was as advertised: sweet, tangy, and nose-runningly spicy, if extremely messy.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: I can really only recommend the wings, which were outstanding. I wish they served tenders as well because sometimes you just don’t feel like getting sauce everywhere on your body and don’t really feel like working hard for your food. Were I to rate the meal as a whole on google, I’d probably give 2.85 stars (that seems right). Only the wings were deserving of 4.5