Meats and Foods

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Yes, Meats and Foods might be the most unimaginative name ever for a restaurant. Ever. And yes, their menu is…sparse. But what they lack in cool names and menu options, they make up for in heart. And collectible Garfield mugs from McDonald’s. But mostly heart.

Meats and Foods features five unique sausages and four toppings, which, if my sixth grade math skills serve me correctly, means there are exactly twenty menu combinations (assuming a safe one topping per sausage) or 120* menu options if you could choose as many toppings as possible, which is inadvisable. Because their sausages are served a la carte, my husband and I not only ordered our two, but also ordered a chilito. It looked like this:

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It may not look like much, but oooooh my god, the chili inside was fantastic. Just a big roll of meaty, cheesy, toasty goodness right here. Good job, Meats and Foods. Set yourself up for success. That was some good meat. And food.

I had the chicken-jalapeno sausage with sauerkraut, while my husband ordered the chorizo with pickles. The chicken-jalapeno actually had the grainy texture of real sausage, not the nasty, too-smooth texture that chicken sausage often gets. It had pieces of vegetables inside, and a strong infusion of turmeric. It was absolutely and unexpectedly great. The chorizo was also an excellent blend of spicy and gentle sweetness. I’m not sure pickles were the best pairing, but that’s all on my husband. Their house-made hot sauce is an excellent, vegetal, and spicy companion to all sausages.

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My complaints are small:

  1. These are served on Martin’s potato rolls. I am normally all about that shit, but they just didn’t hold up to the fats in the sausage and the juices in the pickle-y things. They need pretzel buns or, at the very least, toasted rolls.
  2. I wish they had sides. I don’t require a lot of food to live but I needed more than one tiny sausage. Hit me up with some coleslaw.
  3. I would love to see more toppings with recommendations of combinations. Maybe some quirky names? You can name a sandwich** after me. Think about it. They might also want to visit Yang’s Market for some advice in this arena.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: Great, unique sausages with untapped potential. Bonus: mozy on over to Truxton Inn next door for some post-sausage cocktails.

*5 x 4! = 120

**Yeah, I called a hot dog a sandwich. I also tagged this post as “sandwiches.” I am one of those people who believe that both burgers and hot dogs are sandwiches and I will absolutely fight you over this opinion.

Red Toque Kabob

After a busy day of doing nothing, it was time to do more nothing, aka eating curry in my underwear with a bottle of wine while watching basketball. Side note: if I ever write my memoir, I’m going to title it Eating Curry in my Underwear with a Bottle of Wine While Watching Basketball. This is a recurrent theme in my life.

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Red Toque Kabob has gone through several incarnations in the past few years, including the latest one which 100% looks like a money laundering operation. There isn’t even a bathroom for customers (that I could see). Hell, there wasn’t even a counter for ordering, just some dude in a shadowy corner of the restaurant with an iPad.

I had basically settled on chicken curry earlier this morning (I like to do my research), but my husband hadn’t yet decided. To my shock and dismay, he actually passed up the chicken tikka masala in favor of chicken vindaloo, for which he did not even read the description. This became evident later. We also got a side of spinach and an order of beef samosas. Although he’s not good at reading menu descriptions, my husband did have enough forethought to ask for his dish extra-spicy, which gave me the perfect segue to do so as well.

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I’ll start with the samosa. It was flaky, it was full, it was beefy. “I wish we’d gotten the veggie samosa,” said my husband. But that’s unfair. We ordered beef, we got beef. It was very flavorful. It came with a raita dip that was very loose. I like my raita a little thicker. Moving on…

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If you can tell the difference between the chicken vindaloo (top left) and the chicken curry (top right), then my hat’s off to you. In fact, it took several side-by-side tastings for us to positively identify these as different (hint:  I read the menu and remembered that the vindaloo contains potato). Fortunately for them, they were both more than adequately spicy. I also appreciate the addition of chickpeas to my rice, which makes me feel like I’m not paying $13 for 10 cents worth of rice. But for reals, both of these curries were great. The chicken was tender and plentiful, the sauce was flavorful and spicy. The vindaloo was slightly tangier, the curry was slightly richer? Maybe? If you’re trying to choose between one of these two, just flip a coin.

The spinach was also great. I thought it would have paneer in it, but it was just straight-up spinach with garlic and onions. It was a huge portion too, and it had the added benefit of making me feel healthy while I ate this.

Price: $17 per person.

Bottom line: Yeah, you could probably find better Indian/kabobs/curry/whatever somewhere in DC but if you can just walk to Red Toque and it’s Final Four weekend (and you may or may not have a cheap bottle of malbec). don’t bother.

Spark (at Engine Company 12)

Despite living, oh, five blocks from Spark’s predecessor, Fire House, we went there a total of twice in roughly three years of their being in business. I wouldn’t have even known that they had changed hands were it not for my in-laws, who, unbeknownst to us, were beloved regulars there. You’d think they were embarrassed to be seen with us or something, judging by how often they apparently ate here without even telling us about it.

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Spark hasn’t changed anything on the outside, or really even on the inside. But as we soon found out, looks can be deceiving. We all ordered drinks–I had the Burn Mark cocktail, which was a good combination of citrus and smoke. They had some fancy cocktails, and not too too pricey either. But come on, Spark, this is DC. You need some more craft beers and a more extensive liquor selection.

From the get-go, literally everyone in this place recognized my in-laws. The hostess recognized them. Our waitress recognized them. Two other waiters said hi. My father-in-law is on actual hugging terms with one waiter. The OWNER recognized them. Let me repeat–my husband and I live a seven-minute walk from this place and my in-laws took us here ONCE.

I asked for recommendations from our waitress and she recommended, with a lengthy description, basically everything on the menu. So…not actually that helpful. But I took some of her ideas into consideration. A little. In the end, I ordered the fry bread appetizer for the table as well as the lacquered chicken, oxtail, mac and cheese, and lollipop kale. Let’s start with the fry bread:

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This picture does little justice to it. But it was served in such ridiculous trappings that I felt like that photo was also not representative and I wanted to show off the sides. The bread itself: hot, fluffy, fried goodness. The cucumber slaw: tart, refreshing, oniony. The coconut collards: what is this delicious sorcery? How can collard greens actually be this good? Creamy, coconutty, stewed, sweet. The chickpeas: the worst of the three things, but only by unfair comparison. They were curry-spiced and tasty, if slightly too al-dente for me. They also served us some homemade Scotch Bonnet sauce (you can see a smear of it on the far right of my plate). It was tart and packed some heat, although for hot sauce aficionados such as us, it was not life-changing.

It wasn’t long after that that our main courses arrived, on yet more silly non-plates. Behold:

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For small plates, these were an extremely decent size, particularly the mac and cheese. We were not lacking for meat either. Every person at the table had a different favorite dish, which speaks to the quality of everything. I can only resort to descriptions. The chicken (far left) was not only plentiful, but also fall-off-the-bone with a sweet, crispy skin. I appreciated the serving of the legs like this since they were substantially meatier than wings, and much easier to eat. The oxtail (next to the chicken) was incredible. The exterior was caramelized and crunchy, but underneath that lay a layer of scrumptiously melty fat and flavorful beef. The lollipop kale was so crunchy and delicious, with a salty sweet seasoning that even my kale-hating spouse adored. The mac and cheese at the bottom of the photo looks huge. You might think that this is due to perspective, but in fact it was actually that big. It’s made with long spaghetti, which I gave the side-eye to until I actually tried it. It’s perfect for sopping up the cheese sauce. The top and edges were crispy. The sauce was cheesy in a way I’ve never been able to make my own mac. Spark calls this “smoked” cheese and I guess it very well could be, but it didn’t taste particularly smoky. It doesn’t even matter, though, because it was just so delicious.

I don’t normally get dessert but I wasn’t ready for this meal to end. Spark has a whole list of desserts that, if I’m being honest, are pretty gimmicky. Perhaps the most gimmicky of all is something they call “Play With Fire” which is served “Russian Roulette style.” “What is this and will I die?” we asked our waitress. She explained to us that the chef makes chocolate chip cookie dough with a few pieces of jalapeno in it. You order a cookie under the assumption that you may get a piece of jalapeno, but by her estimation, our odds were 9-to-1 in favor of receiving a non-spicy cookie. The four of us, feeling lucky, ordered one apiece.

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These were solid cookies, served once again on a slice of log for no apparent reason, and topped with spicy candied bacon. We ate slowly, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive pepper. Alas, we were all let down (except my mother-in-law, who I think was banking on not receiving the pepper and kept claiming that she tasted something spicy). For two bucks each, you couldn’t get a better, bigger, more satisfying dessert than this, although I think I would probably pay a dollar extra to be guaranteed the privilege of the jalapeno.

Price: $30 per person.

Bottom line: It’s hard to say whether the food or the staff was better, but either way, Spark could not possibly let you down. After all of that raving, though, I have to say that my favorite part of the entire experience was the fairly relaxed speed. It was like Island time meets DC time. I could enjoy my drink, enjoy the company, and take my time instead of being rushed through everything, but I also never felt neglected. It was a privilege to eat here and I can’t wait to come back. Maybe my in-laws will actually invite us sometime.

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

Bacio Pizzeria

Bacio has been around a while, and used to be a mainstay in my house, but it’s been a while for me. Nothing I had planned for tonight sounded good. It could only be time for pizza.

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Now. My review comes from the perspective of a person who knows this place. Perhaps, like a parent who has suddenly found herself to be “not mad, just disappointed,” I set my initial expectations too high.

It was a beautiful night, so we sat on the patio out front. They do have some inside seating, but the patio is where it’s at. It’s beautiful and the service was also great.

The canned beer list is great, let’s just say that much. I almost–almost– ordered a hard root beer. I have waited my whole life to try a decent hard root beer. Who even stocks this? But then the Boulevard lemon ginger shandy caught my eye. It was basically alcoholic ginger beer, and it was super refreshing, so I guess it checked all the boxes. They were out of the first thing my husband ordered, but this place is so small that I’m impressed they have the storage space for what they have.

Bacio has tons of great-looking toppings and some seriously delicious-sounding signature pizzas. I was unsuccessful in convincing my better half to get anchovies (and, in his defense, I’ve never actually had anchovies on pizza, I’m really just curious!), so we got a large pizza with pesto sauce, pepperoni, roasted red peppers, and caramelized onions. The fact that they even offer pesto is amazing. Obviously, we are not dealing with Pizza Boli-caliber pizza here.

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The bad: As you can see, they uncharacteristically skimped on the toppings here. Notably mostly-absent: pepperoni. Also sad was the light touch they used with the pesto. In my recollection it has been not only fantastic but also heavy-handed.

The good: Onions. Yes. The sweetness was perfect on this. It’s nice that they give you something other than the conventional nasty white onions chopped into tiny pieces that you can’t even pick off. Onions are meant to be cooked. It would have been better if I had had more pepperoni to pair with it. Their cheese is always high-quality too, and they actually offer other options for cheese, including gorgonzola and vegan mozzarella. You can’t order the vegan cheese and still be my friend, but it does exist. The crust is actually flavorful; a solid, medium-thick crust (they also offer thin crust for losers who like that sort of thing).

The more good: we were seated next to a gaggle of awkward 14 year-old girls and got to overhear their entire conversation. It’s always weird to see kids in the wild here in DC, so I feel like witnessing a bunch of weirdo kids without any parents around was like finding a four-leaf clover. They even treated us to a serenade from their collectively favorite musical. As you may have gathered, it was delightfully painful.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Bacio is still great. My qualms with it were minor. It’s great sit-down or take-out pizza that’s actually fresh and high-quality instead of franchised and bad. It’ll run you more than Papa John’s but at least then you don’t have to eat Papa John’s.

BKK Cookshop

Ever since Beau Thai grew up, decided it was too good for us plebes in Bloomingdale, and moved across town to its fancy new digs, they’ve left us their little redheaded half-brother, BKK Cookshop, to help absorb the shock and sadness of their sudden departure. That was like…three years ago. I’m a little bitter.

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So tonight was my first real time there, and it was also luckily a beautiful night to sit on their patio! Just by looking at their menu, you can tell that BKK Cookshop isn’t here to upstage your neighborhood Thai place, which is good because I am unusually attached to my personal neighborhood Thai place and I will fight you if you try to insinuate that your place is better (Aroi shout out!) BKK is a different beast, all interesting noodles, simple but tasty cocktails, and dim sum-like appetizers. Speaking of simple but tasty cocktails, here’s my tart, limey, strong Bangkok Mule!

There was significant negotiation involved in choosing one appetizer because they all looked so good. We finally settled on the steamed buns because we were able to choose three different flavors: spicy pork, sweet black bean, and panang chicken. Steamed buns are so nostalgic for me, probably because I haven’t had great ones since I left my home state of California more than ten years ago and they always remind me of dim sum brunch in San Francisco. The black bean ones were just like those ones, with a rich but not cloying sweetness. The pork was soft, well spiced but not spicy, and the panang was both meaty and saucy, the clear winner.

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Then came the entrees: I had the sukiyaki bowl and husband ordered the coconut curry bowl and a side of son-in-law eggs. The eggs were slightly overcooked and the sauce was syrupy and not super tamarind-y, but it was definitely interesting. The bowls were both so different in their own ways from our usual Thai fare that it’s hard to even compare them. I liked the rich herbaceousness of the Sukiyaki broth and the abundant veggies, especially the Chinese broccoli, which lent its subtle bitterness to counter the salinity of the broth.  The coconut curry was good too, made with a yellow curry that doesn’t make it into my husband’s usual Thai rotation of panang and more panang. The only issue with it was the bone-in chicken that populated his soup for the second week in a row. This guy just cannot catch a break! The good news is that it was very fall-apart-y, and we all know that dark meat is the superior meat. But come on, guys. Throw him a bone (heeeeee!) and just strip the chicken before you put it in a soup. This is my basic thought when it comes to shellfish too; if I’m paying you for my food, you had better be doing all the work.

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Sadly, all of our dishes were originally served gringo-style and although I was happy to not be wrestling with these noodles armed only with chopsticks, we were both much happier after we requested the spice tray and gave our soups some proper nasal-drip-inducing seasoning. No matter how many times I pushed my bowl of leftover liquid away, I couldn’t stop eating the broth. Now I have sloshy-belly.

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: BKK Cookshop is not a replacement for your favorite Thai joint. Instead, you will find a place for it in your heart that you never knew existed. Like the bastard brother of fancy-pants Beau Thai, this place doesn’t get the attention or recognition it deserves. Next time you need some hot and tasty soup, show some love to BKK.