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.

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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.

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Price: $15 per person.

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

Fox Loves Taco

I don’t review a lot of breakfast places because I don’t eat breakfast often. But what better time to try something new than when old friends are in town? By the time we arrived, we were starving because we were stuck on Europe time after arriving home last night. I don’t think my best friend appreciated the long walk required for simple breakfast.

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I thought I would just be getting my usual breakfast of iced coffee but Fox Loves Taco knows what they’re doing when it comes to breakfast and vegetarian menu options. It took me working through a lot of guilt to go with my gut instinct and order an iced honey cinnamon latte. My husband and I decdied to split three tacos: the Wham! (I was drawn in by the poached egg), the Casablanca (apricot chipotle?!), and the Chuck (because you can’t say the words “duck fat” and not expect me to come running). We ordered all of them on the house special sweet potato tortilla.

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Honey cinnamon latte did not disappoint. It was like the world’s most perfect horchata. Fox Loves Taco also has horchata, so never fear, decaffeinated people! It was slightly sweet, had a good spice from the cinnamon, and was just creamy and delicious.

MVIMG_20180630_083207.jpgStarting with the left: the Casablanca had delicious sweet and sour cabbage slaw that complemented the lightly smoky lentils. This taco was the dark horse of the bunch. In the middle is the Chuck. I know ground chicken sucks but I expected something slightly more chorizo-y than this. It was very plain, and even the pickled onions couldn’t save it. The Wham! was definitely the most breakfasty of the bunch, and the poached egg probably would have been better if I wasn’t trying to share it and therefore didn’t end up spilling runny egg everywhere and all over myself. Sometimes I feel like poached eggs just exist for chefs’ bragging rights because nothing makes it actually better than a solid over-easy, and it’s infinitely messier. A final note on the sweet potato tortillas: the hardened and slightly scaly texture didn’t make them ideal vessels for liquidy taco guts.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: In coffee, Fox Loves Taco receives a solid A. Food was a C/C+, overrated hipster crap, and not worth returning.

Huacatay

If you happen to be walking down 4th Street NE, you can just follow your nose to Huacatay. Seriously, you can smell their chicken roasting from several blocks away, even on a stagnant, rainy night like tonight. You’ll know it’s Huacatay making that yummy smell because you can be sure it’s not any of the sketchballs liquor stores that flank it on all sides.

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I’ll just jump right in here. I hope you like eating chicken like a caveman and getting grease all over your face while you suck juicy meat from the bones because that is exactly what you are going to do here. It’s a good thing we did take-out because nobody deserves to see me eating like that.

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A quarter-chicken meal looks like this:

Yeah. Those green beans are considered a “side.” They are onion-y and peppered, and juuuuuust greasy enough. Don’t worry, the grease isn’t enough to keep you from feeling self-righteous eating vegetables while your significant other ingests an unholy amount of mayonnaise and fried stuff. The side salad is what it is. I added my own dressing at home because I’m pretty sure Huacatay’s dressing is just straight-up mayo.

A half-chicken meal looks like this:

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That is…definitely half of a chicken. The coleslaw side is made to please that person who keeps packets of mayo in their desk drawer. The arroz chaufa is a fantastic salt-bomb (read: exactly the way fried rice is supposed to be, if you’re into that sort of thing). My third-favorite thing about Huacatay is the variety of sides they offer, not just your typical soggy steak-fries that you can find at every other Peruvian pollo joint. My second-favorite thing is their sauces. They offer four: white, green, pink, and yellow. Yellow is great if you want a kick of spice. Green is cilantro-y. White is, I’m pretty sure, just plain mayo again. Pink is a happy medium.

My first-favorite thing about Huacatay is the chicken. I don’t know what they baste the bird with besides magic butter. Is it salty? Definitely. But it has a perfect crisp on the outside while the meat on the inside is insanely juicy.

I almost forgot the alfajor! Sweet but not too sweet, perfectly crumbly in a way I can never capture in my own cookies, and maybe just not quite enough dulce de leche inside. There are few better ways to cap off your dinner than this.

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Price: $12 per person.

Bottom line: In DC, a land saturated with Peruvian chicken restaurants, Huacatay goes beyond with not only their chicken, but also their delicious sides. I know you’ve had pollo a la brasa before, but Huacatay is still worth a detour.

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.

Primrose

Primrose inhabits a dumpy-looking space on 12th Street NE in Brookland that used to house an equally dumpy-looking Peruvian chicken joint. I never ate there, but I still felt a pang of nostalgia when I saw that they had closed, and then a similar pang of excitement with a tinge of white guilt when I saw that they had reopened as a chic wine bar. Naturally, I made reservations right away.

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You wouldn’t even know this was open if you didn’t gaze longingly through the tinted windows. The only sign of new life here is this sweet-ass mosaic outside their door. On the other hand, there are plenty of signs of life on the inside, where not only is it hopping with people, it’s also decorated with the feathers of about a hundred birds. Behold the carnage:

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This place is adorable! The bar is decorated with the classic shade of turquoise and in what may very well be an extremely offensive stereotype, all the waiters wear striped shirts. Let’s just give them all jaunty berets, hand-rolled cigarettes, and off-putting nihilism while we’re at it.

My husband was a little overwhelmed by their list, and started off trying to order the merlot but was rebuffed by our server: “Actually, I really hate this merlot. Can I bring you a different wine?” In a world where we actually know anything about wine, this might have been seen as condescending, but we live in the real world, and here in the real world, we are veritable wine ignoramuses, so his suggestion was well-received. My husband enjoyed the Viti Vini Bebi that arrived, saying it was “bold and intense.” (And yes, apparently the plural of ignoramus is ignoramuses. I looked it up).

I very much appreciate the slower pace of service at Primrose. It’s not slow because they’re forgetting you; it’s slow because they want you to relax and enjoy the thing you have in front of you. It made the meal so much more enjoyable.

We weren’t going to get an appetizer, then we waffled toward the cauliflower, but then the couple next to us had a cheese plate put down in front of them and I knew I had to have it. Confusingly/Europeanly, the cheese plates are listed under the desserts on the menu. “Well, let’s just get it for dessert and be fancy,” I said. But then I recanted at the last minute because I knew I couldn’t wait that long for cheese. It arrived a few minutes later. I regret that I didn’t have a photo of it because I inhaled it, like, immediately. It looked basically like every other cheese board you’ve ever seen, so I’ll just let you imagine it. The three cheeses were a hard. crumbly, nutty cow’s milk cheese, a cow/sheep blue blend that was fairly mild, and a semi-soft cow’s Camembert that was not as gooey as it usually is but very creamy. They were accompanied by apple compote, delectable cardamom-spiced dried apricots, and house-pickled vegetables.

We had another nice digestion break before the entrees arrived. And when they arrive, did they ever arrive in style. I had the trout:

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Could this plate be any more beautiful? The beets were soft and sweet, the sorrel cream was mild and creamy, and even I, a notorious potato-hater, liked the blue potatoes. The trout itself was extremely plentiful and cooked to crispy/flaky perfection. I couldn’t be happier with this meal.

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My husband had the short rib wrapped in pastry. For short rib, the meat was a little dry, but still flavorful. The roasted parsnips were spicy and sweet, and it had those strips of crunchy sweet potato on top that made my husband do an Italian chef-style hand kiss.

I think the slower pace and great food we had already had definitely influenced our dessert decision. Under normal circumstances, we’d probably forego dessert, but my husband was talked into getting a flight of aperitifs (admittedly, it didn’t take very much convincing), and we heard tell of the madeleine cookies with custard dipping sauces. We were supposed to choose only one sauce, but when we couldn’t settle on it, our wonderful waiter brought us two: the espresso and the pistachio.

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The madeleines were so cute! They were soft and buttery, although not warm, and were good vehicles for these delicious custards (which were good on their own, and the two flavors made a solid custard suicide). The liqueurs were all wonderful: from left to write is cognac, calvados, and armagnac (I preferred the calvados, but they were all wonderfully unique). I don’t remember the last time I was so happy and satisfied at the end of a meal.

Price: $60+ per person, worth every penny.

Bottom line: Primrose isn’t just an asset to Brookland, it’s a great new addition to DC’s restaurant scene. I hope its off-the-beaten-path location doesn’t deter people from checking it out. I can’t wait for summer nights on their patio. Bonus: after-after dinner drinks at Right Proper around the corner!

Masala Story

As I’ve previously opined, Brookand is actually becoming a bit of a pocket for new and interesting restaurants. Bonus: it’s a perfect walk from my home, not so long that it’s exhausting, but juuuuuuust long enough that I feel okay about stuffing my face with Indian food. Bonus 2: I can stop at Right Proper for a few rounds afterward and still stumble my way home. Also, DC is just sorely lacking in Indian restaurants (unless you’ve got ample time to wait for reservations and the deep pockets necessary for Rasika). So even though it was a nasty, rainy night, I insisted on walking to the newly-opened Masala Story, the sister restaurant to Noma’s Indigo.

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Their menu and method of service is very similar to Indigo’s. They feature favorite staples and northern Indian food, including a wheat-based bread that is more lavash than naan. You order at the counter but they also have a full-service bar with some decent craft beer options and a selection of lower-shelf wines. Unlike Indigo, the interior of the restaurant has ample seating, and it’s adorable! The menu boasts “we can meet your spice level.” I read this as a challenge.

The prices look a little high at first. I feel like a restaurant that gives you a plastic number to put on your table and doesn’t have free refills on water shouldn’t have entrees priced over $10. What am I even paying for if I have to bus my own table? But on account of not wanting to overeat, as well as wanting to try a wide variety of their multitudinous offerings, my husband and I cracked the code to ordering. Enter: the thaali, a TV-dinner style tray packed with the foods of your choosing. Masala Story offers two: a vegetarian one with five vegetables, or a non-vegetarian one with two meat dishes and three vegetables. This, plus an appetizer, was enough food for two people, and even after my husband tacked on his beloved mango lassi, the bill was still extremely reasonable. In my excitement to order so many delicious things, I totally forgot about the spiciness challenge they had offered me, and I didn’t specify a spice level. I thought about going back to amend it afterward, but decided that what was done was done.

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From top left, clockwise: dal tadka, kadi pakora, tindura (which I ordered blindly, knowing only that it’s a house specialty), raita, lamb curry, rice (and aforementioned bread), and chicken tikka masala (which my husband couldn’t possibly live without). Low-maintenance presentation aside, my biggest complaint is with the sheer abundance of rice. Why is the largest slot on this TV dinner tray filled with rice? It feels cheap, like ordering a bowl of regular breakfast cereal at a restaurant. I didn’t pay $20 for a bunch of stupid rice. On the other hand, the tikka masala was soooo creamy, the dal was soupy and fragrant, and the mystery tindura turned out to be delicious sliced green beans in a semi-spicy tomato-based stew. The lamb curry was absolutely delectable, the meat so flaky and moist, an honor also held by the chicken. Nothing was actually spicy save for the garnish of pickled eggplant they serve on the side. If you need to specify a lower level of spice than their default, you just don’t deserve to eat here.

Our appetizer arrived after the main meal. We had ordered the amritsari fish. It was larger than any individual thing on our other tray, and probably larger than half the things on the tray combined. The fish pieces were hot out of the fryer, crispy, and flaky on the inside, although the fry batter wasn’t particularly flavorful. They were served with the mint and tamarind chutneys, but I preferred to dunk the nuggets in the lamb curry sauce, the dal, and the yogurt sauce that came with the pakora.

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Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Fine dining it is not, and for a spicy dreamland it was rather lacking, but if you want a tasty ethnic meal close to home and for a semi-reasonable price, or if you just really like rice, look no further than Masala Story.

City Kabob and Curry House

Although I usually spend my Sunday nights out and about–ok, fine, at Boundary Stone–there comes a time in all of our lives when we just have to spend the evening on the couch in our jammies. This was not the plan I had envisioned for my night tonight but whatever, I ain’t mad.

After a protracted debate about the type of cuisine we were comfortable ordering and perusing the limited options available from UberEats, we settled on kabobs, and City Kabob and Curry House was our place. Neither my husband nor I were particularly hungry, so ordering one entree and an appetizer to split seemed like the correct amount of food, right?

Wrong.

We ordered the chicken breast kabobs and samosa chaat. Here is the monstrosity of Foodzilla that showed up at my home 40 minutes later, chauffered by–no joke–a Lincoln Towncar:

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Other than sheer volume, however, I have few complaints. The naan was warm and fluffy. The chickpeas at the top of the photo were interesting; they were overwhelmingly cumin-y and served in a sauce that was pretty oily, but still delicious (or perhaps it was delicious entirely because of these things). The chicken on the right was well-seasoned, slightly smoky, slightly spicy, and only slightly dry. It definitely could have used some raita or chutney. Altneratively, I could have just thrown some plain yogurt from my fridge on top of it, but that would have required actually getting off my ass and what am I, a magician?

The star of this show was the samosa chaat in the middle of the photo. It was piled with so many toppings that I didn’t even ever see the actual samosa. I assume it was buried under there somewhere. The pastry skin was a little soggy from all that sauce but there is no such thing as a bad samosa, and I think this may have been an effect of the delivery. Where the chicken was lacking in delicious liquid toppings, the chaat shone. Chickpeas, tamarind chutney, raita, cucumbers…this thing had it all. It was smoky, it was sweet, it was savory, it was spicy.

This was $18 well spent.

Price: $10 per person

Bottom line: City Kabob makes it way too easy and cheap to be lazy, and UberEats totally classed it up with that Lincoln.