Stable

I have to say, my curiosity about Swiss food was motivated by my recent reading of chef Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir, which recounts his experience training in an Alpine hotel and attempting to modernize traditional Swiss dishes. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another Swiss restaurant, or met a Swiss immigrant, probably because who would ever want to leave a magical mountain paradise full of hot chocolate and sweaters and secret bank accounts?

We started with drinks and a cheese board. My standbad cocktail with watermelon vodka was refreshing but definitely not too sweet and even had a watermelon ice cube, and my mother-in-law’s apricot daiquiri was a good blend of bitter and tart. Our cheese board was intense. It reminded me of our experience in Belgium of ordering cheese in grams and, like the idiot Americans we are, having no idea the enormous quantity that would appear in front of us (“500 grams? That’s like…a small package, right?”). That is the only time I’ve eaten so much cheese that I would call it too much. Similarly, Stable’s board is one cheese but it’s a lot. Their house bread and butter are inexplicably amazing too.

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My father-in-law had the veal. This is some serious meat and potatoes. The veal comes sliced thin, beautifully brown but still tender, in a creamy mushroom sauce. It was the kind of thing I couldn’t stop picking at, even when it was just mushrooms and gravy left.

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My mother-in-law’s vol-au-vent (that’s a lot of hyphens) was crisp and buttery, with a side of peas that bore no resemblance to nasty, chalky frozen peas. The dumplings inside the pastry were rich and plush, with another creamy sauce.

 

My husband, after a lot of internal debate, ordered the spaghetti with pork picatta. Not his usual style, but it got a big thumbs-up from our server. He was not lying about that thumbs-up; the thin-cut fried pork was perfectly flavorful and this was not some shitty store-bought spaghetti.

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Due to my aforementioned infatuation with Marcus Samuelsson and his repeated mention of the traditional Swiss rosti, I ordered this. I had no idea what I was going to get, and in my imagination it was some sort of stew? Maybe? A casserole? I was close. What I ended up getting was the world’s greatest drunk food, Switzerland’s answer to cheese fries.

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It’s an enormous hashbrown topped with tomato, stinky melted cheese, and topped with speck. The potato was so crispy and perfectly seasoned, and the cheese was just enough to impart serious flavor without turning it into stinky sock city. This meal was not me, but it would definitely be perfect if you were somehow inexplicably already drunk at 6 p.m. I gave up after barely eating half, and the other half also worked well as my husband’s hangover breakfast.

We ordered a dessert of Schnapps, lattes, a chocolate mousse, and a creme brulee. Maybe if you like Schnapps you would be impressed by Stable’s collection. I can say we gave it an honest try. The coffee was good, but oh my god the chocolate mousse was unbelievable:

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This picture does no justice to it. Rich, deep, bitter dark chocolate flavor, candied almonds, perfect whipped texture…this was incredible and I ate much more than my share of it. The creme brulee was deliciously creamy, for sure, but nothing could overshadow this mousse.

My biggest regret in coming here was that I didn’t make the special reservations necessary for Stable’s raclette service. That will have to be saved for a birthday or perhaps and time when I need a very large pick-me-up and the only thing that can help is a giant wheel of melted cheese.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Stable delivers an awesome experience with everything they serve. You can’t go wrong with anything, but these meals are not for the faint of heart, or the carb-avoiders.

Old City Market and Oven

When I made my “to-eat” list for the summer, I called Old City Market and Oven “The Place Near Whole Foods” because I can’t possibly be expected to remember this long of a restaurant name despite the fact that I drive past it once a week and every time I do drive past it, I think “Huh. I should really remember the name of that place so I can go eat there.” I had to do a thorough scouring of google maps to find the right place. After a long day to cap off a long weekend, I was thrilled to see that Old City Market would deliver food to me for the low low delivery charge of $5.99. Fortunately for them, my laziness won out over my cheapskatiness on this one occasion only.

Their menu is long and varied and I thought all was lost when I couldn’t narrow down my selection past the final two dinner contenders. But then my husband said, “You choose for me. You know what I like.” Have more beautiful words ever been spoken? A more selfish wife might have ordered herself two sandwiches with little thought for her spouse. A more selfish wife could have ordered the roast salmon sandwich she kind of wanted.

I ordered the summer corn salad as a side. It sounded pretty standard but I was starving and they’re a little lacking in side dishes. For my first sandwich–I mean, my husband’s sandwich, of course–I got the skewer chicken sandwich, and for myself I ordered the pear and chorizo panini.

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The corn salad was refreshing, I can’t lie. Red bell peppers and cilantro made it stand out. It was a good-size portion too, but it was nothing super innovative.

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The skewered chicken flatbread was solid. The chicken pieces were moist and lightly spiced, tzatziki and feta are always winners, and the addition of artichoke hearts was mildly interesting. The flatbread itself felt fresh and homemade, with a texture somewhere between a flour tortilla and naan. 10/10 would eat again.

Now we come to my panini: it doesn’t look like much, and it wasn’t exactly what I expected, but damn it was tasty. Crispy multigrain bread held up only okay to the addition of fig jam and chorizo grease, but it had a nice texture. The pears inside were ripe and plentiful–maybe too plentiful as they kind of overwhelmed the meat. The jam was pretty sweet too. The chorizo, while not being the whole sausage I was expecting but rather thinly-sliced cured meat, was still delicious and mildly spicy. My only other commentary was that provolone was way too mild of a cheese to stand up to the other bold flavors in this. Stinky brie or bust. But for real, I wolfed this down and not just because I was hungry; it was actually really good.

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Price: $12 per person.

Bottom line: You want some fresh, semi-creative, and reasonably-priced noms near H Street? You could probably make all this food yourself but why? They deliver.

Sol Mexican Grill

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Anybody in my immediate family will tell you how relentlessly I used to make fun of H Street. How anytime it was mentioned, I would squawk, Regina George style, “Stop trying to make H Street happen!” More and more restaurants are proving me wrong, from Le Grenier to Queen Vic (but not Big Board. Never Big Board).

Unfortunately, Sol Mexican Grill (not to be confused with El Sol in Logan Circle), is basically the Gretchen Wieners of H Street. For what it’s worth, this restaurant has a fast-casual joint downstairs and a sit-down section upstairs. It’s possible that the fast-casual part is alright, perhaps even good for what it is. But almost from the get-go, the sit-down section was an abomination.

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Drinks: I had the spicy mango margarita (left), my husband had the Patron margarita. This was the first–and last–thing that wasn’t a complete disappointment. For a “spicy” margarita, this was bad. But for a weekend-starting sugar drink, I guess it was okay. The Patron margarita was solid, though, although these are the smallest glasses of rail liquor to ever cost $11. I’ve adjusted the size of this photo to reflect the actual size of the glasses.

After pigging out on Peruvian chicken for lunch, I wanted something small and was leaning towards tacos but they didn’t look particularly interesting, so I went instead with the trio of enchiladas.

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From left to right, these are beef with mole sauce, pork with red sauce, and chicken with salsa verde. Then there’s some yellow rice that I didn’t eat because it would have been a waste of my time, and some black beans that came straight out of a can. Of the three enchiladas, the beef was the only one worth eating. The mole was smoky and…that’s about it. I like beef, I guess? All three meats were dry, an amazing feat since I’ve never seen someone fuck up pulled pork, and there was no sauce or anything else to speak of inside the enchiladas. I didn’t finish any of these. I was hoping to have a lighter dinner, so I guess Sol helped me accomplish that by giving me food so shitty that even I didn’t want to eat it.

This brings me to my poor husband. He ordered the parillada sol. He’s working out a lot and trying to do a lean bulk, hence the desire to pay $26 for a metric fuck-ton of protein. Unfortunately for him, this meant that he now had to finish this enormous plate of second-rate food:

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On the left: rubber chicken, meh shrimp, ground pork that Sol would like to pass off as “chorizo,” and some overcooked skirt steak. On the right: more shitty accompaniments. Not pictured: tortillas that also clearly came out of a bag. I would like to dwell for a moment on the so-called chorizo. Because it’s actually making me angry that someone thinks they can sully the good name of spicy sausage with some over-salted, greasy pork crumbles. Like, for real.

This place was so bad that we actually passed up an advertised tres leches cake, something I have never done in my entire life.

Looking around, the majority of Sol’s patrons were Gallaudet students, which I can understand. It’s close, and this restaurant took me back to my days as an impoverished college student when my whitebread boyfriend and I would hit up Chili’s for a night of splurging. All likeness to Chili’s abated when we got the bill, though. $77 for this crap?! Regina George was an asshole, but she was right; Gretchen needed to shut up already about “fetch.”

Price: $40 per person, an hour of your life, and your dignity.

Bottom line: Listen, just don’t come here. There’s no excuse. If you want Chili’s, just go to Chili’s. Here’s a map to show you how to get there instead:

Bar Elena

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I never checked out Bar Elena’s predecessor on H Street, Boundary Road, mostly because I was overly defensive of their name, which was just a little too close to my beloved Boundary Stone, in such a way that it felt like a knockoff “Michael Kars” purse you might buy in Chinatown. But, you know, in restaurant form.

From the outside, Bar Elena looks cool. It looks like a place I want to hang out. Actually, it kind of looks like an edgy 15 year-old’s bedroom decorating scheme. Sadly, their look is completely at odds with the reality.

Somehow, in DC of all places, we were seated between two tables containing kids. If you’re only just now realizing how infrequently you see kids in DC dining establishments, consider yourself enlightened. You will now notice a distinct lack of children everywhere you go. And you will never fully appreciate it until you go to Bar Elena. I’m not sure what possessed all these parents to bring their children to a place with the word “Bar” in the name. Maybe those funky zigzag curtains and bright interior colors reminded them of kids? I dunno.

So the atmosphere was…weird. But on to the food and, more importantly given the circumstances, the drinks. The draft list is decent and contains some interesting craft beers and a variety of wines. My father-in-law and husband both got sour beers, so I commend them for that. I had a champagne-based cocktail that was beautiful, slightly fruity, and not too sweet.

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On a recommendation, we ordered the stuffed clams as an appetizer.

They were okay. The crumbled bread on top was kind of bland, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this…) I’m not sure bacon blends well with uber-seafoody clams. There were six tiny clams; why did this cost $12?

The entrees picked up, though. I had the root vegetable salad with steak, and around the table we also had the smothered brisket, the special catfish sandwich, and the lobster roll.

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They left no stone unturned on the root veggie front–it even had roasted radishes! The beets and carrots are always a classic pairing, and the steak was cooked well as well as to my medium-rare specification. They didn’t skimp on the steak either, and this ended up being a perfectly-sized entree.

The lobster roll was pretty standard. It was kind of dry, and lobster doesn’t taste like anything as a general principle. It had a nice fennel slaw on top, but didn’t have enough. I think lobster rolls are just not my thing, but even if they were my thing, I think I could have done better than this one. The catfish sandwich was quite good–the fish was crispy on the outside and soft and flaky on the inside, cooked perfectly. The remoulade was scrumptious. The true winner was this ridiculous brisket concoction:

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Damn if this isn’t the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen prepared in a restaurant. But holy crap was it tasty. Bread, chopped brisket, cheese, bread, and more cheese, all drenched in jus. It was beefy and cheesy, and everything melted in your mouth. This “sandwich” (if you want to call it that) is probably worth the ensuing heart attack.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: I would come back to Bar Elena under three circumstances: 1) It was someone else’s idea and they, like, really wanted to go; 2) They lowered the price of everything by $5; and 3) Come only after 8:00, aka the kids’ bedtime.

Fresca Taqueria

We were winging it on Saturday night, looking around H Street for anything that sounded good and hoping we could find something before we froze to death in the first snow of the season and we happened upon Fresca Taqueria. We were tired, frozen, hungry, and in the mood for tacos, so we went in without much more than a glance at the menu.

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“Will you be dining in or taking out?” asked the cashier in the front. We glanced around at the basic digs, then at each other, shrugged, and said, “Dining in.”

“Well, in that case…would you like to sit in our new sit-down restaurant around back? You can have a table and a waiter, and all the food and prices are the same.” Obviously, we acquiesced.

He led us around the side of the building and into their very inconspicuous new restaurant. From the minute we crossed the threshold, we felt like Jack Torrance in The Shining, like we were walking into a place where everyone knew us because we’d been regulars there for time immemorial. Appropriately, although maybe unwisely, we sat at the bar.

They have a great tap list of mostly local beers, but what caught my eye was the $6.95 margaritas. We ordered two, along with some chips and salsa. The menu is enormous. They have every Mexican specialty you could possibly imagine, along with pupusas and empanadas. I came into this situation knowing I wanted tacos and I still had a hard time choosing. I finally settled on three tacos–one of the recommended shrimp, one pork, and one chorizo. My husband was thrilled to see that they offered Mexican tortas, which he has been dreaming of since our jaunt to Tacos y Tortas in Arlington. Like the margaritas, prices here were extremely reasonable.

Margaritas and chips arrived first. Oooooh this margarita could be dangerous. We sucked those down like nothing. I resolved not to order another one since we were on our way to a get-together with friends. The chips were good, with two salsas which were clearly homemade but fairly standard.

And then….then the entrees arrived. Here are some tacos:

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I started with the shrimp–not a bit chewy, very flavorful, paired well with salsa verde. The pork was second. It was the porkiest pork I’ve ever had–I at first thought that it could have used a marinade, but that would have covered up the sheer meaty flavor. I saved the chorizo for last. You can’t go wrong with this. I paired it with the smoky chipotle sauce and it was all spicy, smoky goodness. I could eat these forever and ever…and ever.

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s torta!

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Like the pork taco, the flavor of the beef really shone through in this torta. It was a little plainer than the ones at Tortas y Tacos, but it was packed with toppings and dripping with mayo. It was definitely a winner.

It was at this point in the meal that the bartender who’d been serving us decided, completely unprompted, to whip up a jamaica margarita for funzies and give us a second round on the house. The jamaica margarita was even better than the house one, if that’s even possible. Like I said, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a photo of myself from 20 years ago hanging on their wall.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Fresca will meet all of your taco craving needs and then some. I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself snowed in here for the winter.

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.