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.

The Permanent List

Since I’ll spend all future posts reviewing future restaurants, I wanted to take one post to look at the past and talk about the places I never say no to (and the places I never say yes to). So without further ado, here is the permanent positive list:

  • Boundary Stone: OK, so I am a regular here. It’s my neighborhood place. It’s where I go when I want to go where everybody knows my name. But the food is always on-point and the whiskey list is only topped by a few other places (ahem, Jack Rose). They deserve an A- in food, A in whiskey, A+ in proximity to my home.
  • Mandalay: While not technically in DC, my husband and I stumbled on this place by accident a few years ago and it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. I take all out of town guests here for the spiciest food they’ve ever had. Special props go to their Nan Jhi Thoke, their signature Burmese dish. It is worth the drive/metro to Silver Spring for this place. Mandalay earns an A in burning your mouth off.
  • Panda Gourmet: Yes, the sketchy-looking place next to the Day’s Inn on New York Avenue. This is the only places to get authentic, or really even good, Chinese food in DC. Come here with a bunch of friends so that you can try a little of everything–the menu is extensive. A-.
  • Daikaya: Do you like ramen? Do you like Backstreet Boys sing-alongs? Then this is the place for you.
  • Steel Plate: The service is slow, but I like to think of it as European. Enjoy the food, enjoy the company, and ask for the check when you’re ready. Their rabbit poutine is oustanding.
  • Cafe Berlin: Great service, authentic food from a real German chef, and ridiculous portions.
  • El Centro DF: I first came here not too long ago, begrudgingly, and expecting it to be overpriced faux-Mexican food prepared and served by gringos. I was pleasantly surprised by how it defied every assumption I had made about it. Mezcal flights are a big draw too. A for authenticity.
  • Komi: This place is in a different league than the others previously listed, but I had the greatest meal of my life here several years ago and I’ve been chasing that high ever since (not to be found at any other place). A+!
  • Iron Gate: The food is always incredible and the atmosphere can’t be beat. We had a particularly great time here during a Christmas Eve prix fixe meal. Solid A. Never had a bad dish here.
  • The Sovereign: This is a bit of a lie because the last time I was here, the service was incredibly negligent considering that there were only two tables seated in the entire restaurant, but I’ve always been blown away by the food and the beer list. Definite A- for food, potential B in service but will give them another chance.

And now, the permanent B-list (“B” stands for “Banned”):

  • Big Board: This was the first place to be permanently banned in my household. How can a place that cooks only burgers not figure out how to cook a burger? The variable beer pricing is also gimmicky, and the beer is never actually cheap, it just wavers between kind of expensive and really expensive. C for food, D for stupid gimmick.
  • The Pub and the People: I don’t get the hype. Perhaps this place isn’t so bad, but with the crowd they constantly attract, it should be better. B for food, B- for service.
  • Sally’s Middle Name: This place is the Zooey Deschanel of restaurants; all quirky style, no substance. All of their food tasted like it was made my someone who skipped Seasoning 101 in culinary school. Why did they waste perfectly good ingredients on something that wasn’t salted?
  • The Brixton: I’ve never actually eaten here and I never will. One night, while here with my friends, I ordered an Old Fashioned from the bar. The bartender told me that they couldn’t make me an Old Fashioned because it was “too busy.” What. It has 4 ingredients (if you count ICE) and you don’t even have to shake it. Also, YOU ARE A BAR. Brixton earns an F in serving alcohol, the thing that is literally their entire job.
  • Minibar: Controversial, yes. I’m a Jose Andres fangirl, but this place charges $1000 for a weird (and, at times, uncomfortable) experience, not for good eats. It’s interesting, I don’t regret it, but never again. A for effort (?), C in cost-benefit analysis.