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 Bis

Restaurant Week seemed like the perfect time to check out Bistro Bis, which has been on my list for a while. It just never seemed like an appropriate time to check it out until I could get three courses for, like, the price of one normal appetizer here. So cross this one out and here I go!

I’ll forego talking about the drinks because they were kind of unremarkable. Normal beer list, pricey wines, some original cocktails at DC prices. Everything was fine (I did drink two cocktails, after all), but it’s not worth the effort to post a picture, although I have to say that the server brought my cocktail out in a mini shaker and poured it right into the martini glass in front of me, which always makes me feel like royalty.

First of all, I love that their Restaurant Week deal allowed us to get basically whatever we wanted from their normal menu, which enabled everyone to get something completely different. Here were our appetizer selections:

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Starting on the top left, my husband has been working from home all week due to a bad cold, so this guy was super excited to order the French onion soup. It was your regular French onion soup, except I could smell this delicious stinky cheese even sitting on the other side of the table from him. It was all I could smell, in fact. The cheese was melty and crispy; the broth was full of onions. I loved it. It was worth my getting his cold just to try it. In the top of the photo is the endive salad, which I almost ordered for myself. I love the bitterness and crunch of the endive with the sweet, candied walnuts and pears. On the right was the Salade Panache. The apricots lent a nice sweetness and I’m partial to manchego. It was a good salad, but ultimately just a salad. On the bottom of the photo was my pick: the salmon cru. The carrot puree was particularly good; the green apple puree took me a little while to get used to. The salmon was only lightly cured and therefore not overly salty, but it was cut nicely and very tender. The cabbage and carrots on top lent a nice texture as well. It was also a perfectly-sized appetizer, especially for one person.

After tasting our entrees, though, I now believe in sorcery. Everything was so good in its own way. Between the four of us, we had the walnut-crusted scallops, the beef Bourguignon, the lamb shank, and the duck confit, which I will admit was my order because ever since I converted from being a vegetarian to being a meat-eater four years ago, I’ve been notorious for ordering duck any time it’s available. It’s like chicken, but not a horrible disappointment to eat.

Anyway, let’s start with the beef. So tender, so fall-aparty, in a rich wine sauce. It was a fantastic beef stew, and it came with these mashed potatoes that were so delicious even I liked them, and potatoes just are not my thing. I’m pretty sure that they were at least 60% butter. Butter is unequivocally my thing.

The lamb shank was heavenly. The meat had that lamby flavor but it wasn’t overwhelming, and it went really well with the cinnamon-y chickpeas on the plate. Lamb is so hard to get right, and this was incredibly melty and not even a bit chewy. I have nothing bad to say about it. I even chomped down the caramelized crust pieces my husband left behind.

20180126_192850.jpgSpeaking of not-my-thing: scallops. The nasty marshmallows of the sea. But in this case, I could roll with them. The nut crust gave them a texture that was decidedly less marshmallowy, and they were cooked really well, not chewy at all. The accompanying sweet potato puree was delicious.

Finally, the duck: I always prefer my meat boneless because I like to have the shortest route possible between my plate and my mouth (bonus points if the meat is already cut into small pieces!) But this duck fell right off the bone, and was served with beans and a spicy tomato-based sauce that worked well to cut the fattiness of the meat. Duck wins again. No regrets here.20180126_192838.jpg

20180126_200334.jpgFortunately–or unfortunately for my waistline–Bistro Bis’ restaurant week deal included an individual dessert for all four of us, which was highly unnecessary. Like the ingenious, crafty people we all are, we once again coordinated our dessert choices to include the widest possible variety. Represented here were: Apple Croustade, Citron Tarte, Torte au Chocolat, and Paris-Brest pastry. I think the winner of this round would depend completely on who you asked. I really enjoyed the apple croustade, mainly because the pastry crust was so flaky and buttery, and I really liked the raisins in the filling. My husband thought the Paris-Brest’s pastry dough was overcooked, but it was filled with a delicious cream that I can’t complain about. The chocolate cake itself was slightly dry, but had a decadent mousse topping. And the Citron Tarte was good if you’re into that sort of thing: tart, crusty, meringue.

Price: $50 per person during Restaurant Week, probably a solid $70 per person at all other times.

Bottom line: I was not disappointed by anything at tonight’s dinner. That said, I think Restaurant Week is the perfect time to go here since the price was actually reasonable. For a regular Friday night, I might choose Le Grenier instead since it has a much more local (read: cheaper) vibe.

Barrel

My in-laws constantly wax poetic about their regular place, Barrel. Not a week passes without hearing “So the other night at Barrel…” Finally, we had to try it.

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Barrel is known for–pretty obviously–their whiskey. Something that should be known about my father-in-law is this: he is fantastic at finding great cocktail bars. He is also great at presuming that they have good food, and we have been burned by this assumption enough times to not let him choose restaurants based on drinks alone anymore. Remember a few weeks ago when we ate at Kith and Kin and then went savage on a Bacio pizza because it wasn’t enough food? Regrettably, that wasn’t our first time doing this. I will take the blame for Kith and Kin but let’s just establish the fact that no, you can’t eat dinner at Denson. And as soon as we sat down at Barrel, which has a great vibe, by the way, my FIL said, “Okay, so the food here isn’t the greatest…” I had kind of already set some low expectations for the food, but I probably made a face when he said that.

We ordered drinks–two solid craft beers on draft, a wine, and I had the A Henway cocktail. It was made with gin and blackberries; it tasted like gin and not a lot else. I immediately regretted this decision, but it’s my fault and my fault alone. It sure was pretty though.

Barrel’s menu is organized horribly. You will see why later. It has three sections that don’t make a whole lot of sense: starters, grub and sammys (?), and pasta. Why is pasta not also classified as grub? It’s also not terribly cohesive. Tacos? Pasta? Crab rangoon? Jerk ribs? Barrel has no idea what it wants to be when it grows up. Barrel is, like, three years into college and still a freshman because it has changed its major so many times.

We ordered the brussels sprouts for the table. They are made with Asian flavors (I rest my case), tons of fish sauce, chili, and peanuts. They were salty, savory, and delectable. I could eat this all day.

My in-laws warned us about Barrel’s spicy spicy buffalo chicken sandwich, so naturally we had to get that. We also decided that maybe it wouldn’t quite feed two people and we should also get another small dish. Having no direction whatsoever in terms of choosing an appropriately-sized dish, we settled on the lamb nachos, which were served over sweet potato chips. We thought that would be the right amount of food. We chose poorly.

The chicken sandwich was nothing to sneeze at. I like the soft ciabatta roll and the pickles and the red onions. The flavors melded nicely. The chicken was tender with a good crust. It was not spicy. The lamb nachos were ENORMOUS and only nachos in the loosest sense of the word. That is, it was something on top of chips. Again, I like ground lamb. I like subtle curry spice. I like sweet potato chips. But how are these nachos without cheese?

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Meanwhile, my father-in-law ordered TWO orders of the carnitas tacos because, being a regular, he knew that this plate was tiny and he would need two plates of it to even come close to representing a full meal. The tacos were pretty basic: weirdly bland carnitas, cilantro, and cheese. All three of the aforementioned dishes were located in the “grub and sammys” section of the menu. How could one possibly know what size of food one is ordering?

So as it turned out, it wasn’t Barrel’s quality of food that diminished them in my mind. The quality was good, the food was tasty, the brussels sprouts were a stand-out. It was the fact that they don’t quite have a handle on basic existential questions such as Who am I? and What am I doing here? and What kind of food is this? Barrel needs to take a gap year and backpack across Europe or something.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Barrel is a great joint for happy hour and trying new whiskey, or drinking one of their famous barrels of Old Fashioneds. Although I didn’t try the Mac and Cheese (since I thought it would be too much food but it turns out that would have actually been an appropriate amount), I saw and smelled it and I can recommend it based on this alone. Bring some friends and get some diverse bar food.

Kenny’s BBQ

My husband and I used to liken Kenny’s BBQ on Maryland Avenue to Freddy’s place in House of Cards. It looked like some shady-ass political plotting was going on in there, or like you might need a tetanus shot just to enter. Despite my husband’s vaunted status as a brisket connoisseur, we had never been (we thought we had already found our usual BBQ spots). But when Kenny’s went through their recent makeover and their website advertised them as being under new ownership, we took the leap.

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I have to say, it’s beautiful. Maybe too beautiful for a BBQ place, whose quality of food is usually inversely correlated with their physical attractiveness. The inside is even more so, with lots of kitschy knick-knacks and flowers on the tables (we wasted our time waiting for our food playing with an old typewriter and lamenting not having been born earlier). We also took this time to sample all of the sauces they offer and they were all great. The Kenny’s Mild was sweet and peppery, the Memphis had the great sweet-smoky flavor of traditional BBQ, Kenny’s Hot was a little thinner and not too spicy, and even the Carolina sauce was thick, savory, and not too vinegary. The Kansas City, on the other hand, was the perfect mix of tomato-y, molasses-y, spicy flavors, but despite its greatness, I continued to switch back and forth between all the sauces.

We decided to split the Kenny’s Invite-Only platter, which included three meats of our choice and three sides. They also have a decent selection of craft beers on tap and in cans. I got the Avery Liliko’i Kepolo, because I believe that there is no limit to how much passionfruit beer I can consume in one lifetime.

20171007_193650.jpgFrom top left, clockwise: brisket, pulled pork, Martin’s potato rolls, coleslaw, collard greens, mac and cheese, pork ribs.

First, let’s talk about the sides. The coleslaw was crunchy and creamy but needed more pepper. It was pretty bland. The mac was hot and cheesy but standard. However, and I feel weird getting starry-eyed over collard greens, these greens were so soft, so seasoned, so braised, so savory…I could eat this every day. This is what my collard greens want to be when they grow up. We were fighting over the last bite.

Now, the meats: we went for the ribs first because they tend to be both of our least favorite of the three. They were soft inside with a nice crust outside, and the meat mostly came off quite easily, although I would not call it “fall off the bone.” I mostly used the Carolina sauce on my rib, which added touch of flavor to what was otherwise fairly unflavorful meat.

Then, we started splitting up the mountain of pulled pork. For this reason alone, the $28 Invite-Only platter was worth it; a full 8 ounces of this pork. It was rich, soft, moist, and meaty, and the best part was that I could dip it in all of their delicious sauces, although I eventually came to favor the Kansas City more than the others.

We took a break from the pork to sample the brisket. This was sadly the most disappointing of the meats. It did have a pink smoke ring, but the bark was under-seasoned and lacked crunch. The fat distribution inside was uneven. Brisket should be fork-tender and melty-fatty, but this was merely plastic knife-tender and slightly globby-fatty.

Thankfully we had more pork, so we could end on a good note. I actually can’t say enough good things about that pulled pork, so long as it was drenched in sauce. We might be here all day, really. So for your benefit, I’ll just remind you that it was delicious and stop talking now.

Price: $20-25 per person

Bottom line: If the sauce is what makes the BBQ for you, Kenny’s is pretty okay. Every sauce is a standout, which is good because the sauce was necessary to give flavor to kind of meh meat. Just stick to the pork, don’t go anywhere near the brisket, get you some of those melty-ass collards, and gaze longingly at their many pictures of smiling, BBQ-eating Obama. Then go home and cry yourself to sleep because your collards will never be that good and Obama will never be our president again.