BBQ Bus

I’ll get right down to it because I don’t want BBQ Bus to steal any more of my time than they already have. I ordered the 3-meat sampler platter to split with my husband: halfsmoke, turkey, and brisket. Of these three meats, two of them had an up-charge. Why do you even offer a three-meat sampler if you’re going to up-charge me? Also, extra cost for turkey? Do they charge more for making things un-delicious now?

Before I get to the real horrors of this lunch, I’ll speak briefly about the sauces. I sampled four because I was in a time-crunch and that was all I could find. The “Spicy” sauce was…not. Why you gotta lie, BBQ Bus? The Memphis-style was decidedly the most interesting, the smoky-sweet was fairly standard, and Teriyaki…what is this even doing here?

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Does this look like $22 worth of food to you? No? Maybe that’s because it wasn’t $22; all the extra charges made this $25! I actually checked the bag multiple times because I was sure they had forgotten something. How could this be lunch for two people?

You will see on the left side, from top to bottom: turkey (remarkably un-smoky, this totally came out of your grandma’s Thanksgiving leftovers), brisket (passed the pull-test but unflavorful and again, not smoky), and the halfsmoke (okay, do I really need to tell them that this sausage has the word “smoke” in its actual goddamn name? It was a bratwurst covered in BBQ sauce). The collards were cooked down but meh in flavor–not even bitter, just overcooked, and the mac and cheese was like…mac and flour or something. No cheese. Just mac, bechamel, and yellow number 5. Super blah. Then I got two pieces of “Texas toast” aka soggy bread. So I guess BBQ Bus really is charging more money for making terrible food now.

Listen, guys. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head and forcing you to make BBQ. If you can’t make it right, don’t do it.

Price: $25 per person. Yeah. This was still only one person’s amount of food.

Bottom line: I haven’t had great BBQ anywhere in DC except, notably, DCity, but everywhere else is better than the Bus.

The Eleanor

The Eleanor takes up the first floor of one of the many ugly high-rise apartment buildings in NoMa and used to be a restaurant called Union Social. Union Social died and I said “good riddance” without even trying it. I didn’t even need to go there to know it was overpriced, generic TGI Fridays nonsense.

The Eleanor is owned by the same people as Bar Elena on H Street. This should have been my first clue. They’ve turned it into a two-lane mini bowling alley/adult arcade/tiny facsimile of Dave and Buster’s. A sign on the outside admonishes children that their presence will not be tolerated without their parents. I like bowling! I like pinball! I’m fun! Most importantly, I don’t want to be reminded that teenagers exist when I’m on summer vacation! This is my kind of place.

Their tap list is pretty nice and included solid beers from near and far, including three sours. Cocktails looked good too, and I ordered a Rosa de Jamaica. We also nabbed an order of their hushpuppies, which are served elote loco-style. They were pretty okay. Hushpuppies are more my mother-in-law’s jam. They were barely moist with lots of your stereotypical powdery parmesan cheese and some (but not enough) spicy mayo. Hushpuppies are so dippable, I don’t know why they didn’t include a dipping sauce.

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Everyone at the table received their drinks and hushpuppies and then we waited basically forever while our waitresses (PLURAL!) helped the other, like, four tables that were occupied. We had menus down. We were just talking. I was making decidedly un-casual glarey eye contact with them. I understand slow service if you’re busy, but they weren’t. Finally, we managed to summon them via Jedi mind tricks and were able to order. Here’s the only preliminary you need to know about our overall order: my husband made a big deal about ordering the chicken sandwich with fried chicken (an option that appears on the menu) and with cheddar instead of American cheese. Why is American cheese even an option at a fine dining establishment? This is not McDonald’s. A better question yet would be Why is American cheese even a thing? Four year-old me could tell that that shit is disgusting and only vaguely cheese-esque. Is this the new status quo in Trump’s America? I don’t know about you, but processed cheese product is not how I want my country represented. Alright, you got it? Fried with cheddar.

Here’s the M. Night Shyamalan plot twist: the chicken sandwich arrived and it was not fried and it had American “cheese.” Bet you didn’t see that coming! Besides the mix-up, it  was lame. The Eleanor uses chicken thigh for all their chicken needs, a bold move in our low-fat boneless breast-loving culture. I love dark meat chicken. But not when it’s full of gristle, as this was. Come on, guys. Lettuce, red onion. This sandwich was basic.

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Also pictured here is my father-in-law’s spaghetti sandwich. What fresh hell is this? I think a carb-happy kindergartner may have conceptualized this meal. Worse yet: every part of this was store-bought, down to the spaghetti. My father-in-law said it best with “everything on here just tastes old.”

I ordered the tomato and kimchi salad with an addition of smoked salmon. The salmon was good, but, once again, definitely store-bought. The tomatoes were fresh too, I guess. But this was not a dinner-sized salad, nor was it even cohesive. Tomato and [a tiny amount of] kimchi is not a stretch, but then there were a bunch of pita chips topping it, like flat croutons. Except you can’t even use a fork to eat pita chips. It’s literally impossible. I just ended up pushing them to to the side because they weren’t even good.

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My mother-in-law had the lobster roll and loved it. Her appreciation for her sandwich was partly a function of her forgiving and enthusiastic nature, but I have to admit that it was the best meal in our group. The lobster was tender, it had a good ratio of mayo to meat, and the bread was an appropriate medium for the food (in contrast to spaghetti, which does not require additional bread). Then we waited about twenty more minutes for the check.

“This was so good!” chirped my mother-in-law in her usual, very kind and generous way.

“NO,” said the rest of us.

Price: $30 per person.

Bottom line: I hope one day the curse will be lifted and this location can finally have a decent restaurant. Until that time, don’t let the bowling gimmick cloud your perception of an otherwise blah eatery.

Declaration

Between parties, being out of town, and revisiting old favorite spots, it’s been a few weeks so I was excited to start trying out some new places and Declaration was next on the list, mostly because I had seen it during our visits to Hazel and Haikan. I associate only good things with those places, plus then I found out that Declaration specializes in pizza so it was a shoe-in for family fun Friday.

I was excited when we were seated and found out about the special tasting menu that is a glorified version of Panera’s U-Pick-2 deal. My father-in-law and I decided to choose opposite tasting menu dishes for the full effect. My husband ordered the cheesesteak, my mother-in-law ordered the Thomas Heyward pizza, which Declaration bills as its most popular choice. We also were lured in by deviled eggs and the brussels sprouts appetizer. In this family, we never turn down either of those.

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The deviled eggs were good but very garlicky. I appreciated the simplicity and the strong, classic flavor. The sprouts were perfectly crispy and served with golden raisins, green apples, and a glob of melty bleu cheese. I cook sprouts approximately once a week, and order them in a restaurant almost that often too, and it’s rare that I’ve had ones this good. The salty-sweet-funky combo went so well with the crispy, bitter veggie. Declaration set me up with high hopes for the main meal.

My mother-in-law’s pizza and half of my father-in-law’s tasting menu meal came out first. Yep–looks like a pizza:

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It tasted like a pizza. It was light on toppings, particularly the pepperoni. If you happen to be looking for interesting specialty pizza, this was not it. You could have told me this was from Paisano’s and I would have believed you (and I love Paisano’s for what it is: a no-frills choose-your-own-adventure place where pizza doesn’t cost a gimmicky $17.76).

My husband’s cheesesteak arrived. I had a little bite of this meaty, bready, mayo-y concoction. If you, like him, are trying to eat as much as possible, this may be the sandwich for you! It had vegetables and nicely-caramelized onions, which put it a step above the average cheesesteak in my mind (although I’m from California and admittedly have no appreciation for authentic Philly sandwiches).

Then I waited. And waited. I took another little bite of the pizza. I waited some more. Then one-half of my tasting meal arrived: the branzino (note: this photo shows the acutal size of the food).

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I take back all the bad things I said about Kith/Kin and their tiny baby food. I regret that there’s no way to correctly judge the size of the food in this picture, but the carrots on the plate are regular-to-small sized baby carrots. That branzino was approximately 1.5 inches long. It’s okay to have food this size if you’re at, say, Komi and you’re going to be served twelve courses. At Declaration, this was my main meal. And it was served before my salad but somehow still ten minutes after everyone else’s food. It tasted good, but at what cost?

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Here’s the salad I got, approximately ten minutes after finishing my fish. I could have made a more imaginative salad at the Whole Foods salad bar (I know this specifically because I do exactly that every single weekend).

I can’t even review the drinks or my father-in-law’s food because no amount of fairly-good steak could make up for the sins Declaration committed against fish and pizza.

Price: $35 per person.

Bottom line: If you want cheap, boring pizza, go to Paisano’s. If you want interesting pizza, go to Bacio or Little Coco’s or Ghibellina. If you want a bowl of arugula, go to Whole Foods. Leave this one to the tourists. You’ve been warned.

https://goo.gl/maps/P9EVuTtSa5r

Brick Lane

After passing Brick Lane a few weeks ago and doing an inadequate amount of google research, I made a Friday night reservation here. It’s important to note that when I say “inadequate amount of google research,” what I mean is that I googled the name of the restaurant, gave the menu the once-over, and determined that the food was a reasonable price and mother-in-law friendly. I also peeped that they bill themselves as “The Hottest Restaurant in Dupont Circle.” Is there a restaurant hotness certification board that determines these things? After eating here, I can say definitively: No. Brick Lane’s website also touts that they are an OpenTable Diners’ Choice Award Winner. Guys, sometimes you’re just blinded by glitter and flashbulbs and can’t see the gritty side of Hollywood.

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Alright, it’s cute; I’ll give them that. It’s also tiny. But even though I’d perused the menu online, I was suddenly stricken by an unnameable fear. Something here told me that I’d just made a mistake. Perhaps it was the large number of unimaginative meal options all featuring the same vague ingredients. There was a salmon entree, a salmon sandwich, and a salmon salad. They had lemon chicken as a menu option. Lemon chicken is what your mom cooks on Thursdays because she hasn’t had time to go to the grocery store and if you don’t like it, then you can just cook dinner from now on.

We ordered drinks: as per usual, two beers, a wine, and the Capitol cocktail. I wish I could say that the cocktail was memorable, but it was watered-down and sad. I held on to high hopes for the meal. I had been promised hotness and I wanted to see hotness!

We didn’t order any appetizers because they were all boring as shit, but our entrees arrived reasonably quickly. I had the salmon sandwich I was just making fun of, my husband got the Brick Lane burger, my father-in-law got the hanger steak, and my mother-in-law had the coconut shrimp salad.

Here’s the good news first. The salmon was cooked well, the sandwiches were served on interesting buns, and hanger steak was pretty good. Here are some pictures of food:

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Here’s the boring news: everything. In case it’s unapparent in this picture, I ate salmon. On bread. With lettuce and tomato. The end. The hanger steak was steak. With mashed potatoes. And some grilled bok choy. If I had put this on a plate at home, my husband would be like, “I don’t get it.” I mean, it tasted fine, particularly the steak. But like my father-in-law astutely pointed out, have you ever had a bad mashed potato? Particularly unimpressive was my mother-in-law’s salad, which I take exceptional issue with because of this: the menu says “coconut shrimp.” This is not coconut shrimp. This is oily, bad tempura shrimp on top of some lettuce. Even before I tried this, I refused to take a picture of it on account of it just being some shrimp on top of lettuce. Can you picture that in your mind? Good, now you don’t need a photo.

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While the rest of us tried not to make eye contact with my MIL, she ordered a slice of tiramisu for dessert. It is accurately represented in this photo.

I have so many problems with this, but I’ll stick with the glaring error: I didn’t even taste liquor or espresso in this when both of those things should have been soaking through the layers of cake. That, and I’m 99% sure this came from the Safeway around the corner.

And now for the worst part of the meal: the post-meal google session. So after some cursory internet searching by a competent professional (i.e. my husband), it turns out that the so-called OpenTable Diners’ Choice Award is either:

a) a real thing that Brick Lane is falsely claiming they won, or

b) a semi-fake award that OpenTable gives to everyone in exchange for getting free press on restaurants’ websites

I don’t know if it’s better to know you’re lying, or to be taken for a ride and not knowing you’re lying. They’re both pretty bad.

Price: $30 per person. All things considered, the entrees were pretty reasonable prices. Being overpriced was not Brick Lane’s problem.

Bottom line: I’m trying to liken Brick Lane to a chain restaurant everyone knows, but that’s too hard. It’s at least one notch above TGI Fridays. If anyone has actually ever called this place “the hottest restaurant in Dupont,” it was likely to have been your weird aunt who thinks she’s really fancy and avant-garde because she added pears and walnuts to the salad one Thanksgiving.

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:

Kith and Kin

This place is sometimes stylized as Kith/Kin, so I’m not sure how to properly write their name. This was my first time going to the Wharf and I was pretty excited. I’ve been looking forward to this. It was nice being on the waterfront and probably would have been even nicer had it not been negative one thousand degrees and already dark when we got there (side note: why do we insist on compounding the misery of winter by switching to standard time and making the evenings even darker? I will rail against this until the day I die). After dinner, I realized, though, that the Wharf is really just Tyson’s Corner East; full of fancy fountains and overpriced makeup stores.

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Anyhow, regardless of depressing darkness, Kith and/or Kin and the hotel that houses it are both beautiful and modern looking. We were seated and given one drink menu for the entire table of six. The first page had some delicious-sounding cocktails with some outrageous prices. The next pages listed a sad selection of beers, both bottled and draft, with also outrageous prices. If you’re going to charge nineteen goddamn dollars for a drink, it better be a Long Island iced tea served in a glass as tall as I am. Already Kith/Kin was on notice.

They served us each a tasty coco bread roll, which made me hopeful for things to come, and our server explained the menu, describing their share-plates as being either appetizer-sized or entree-sized. We hedged our bets by ordering five things, two of which were the larger size. If you think that paying $17 for an entree sounds entirely reasonable, get ready to see what kind of hamster-sized food Kith and Kin considers an entree.

The food arrived quickly and for the sake of simplicity I’ll dump all my pictures here:

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Top picture: Before I describe anything, I want you to look at the picture and notice the spoon. That was not a large spoon of the serving-utensil variety. That was a normal-sized spoon. Okay, now I can begin. In the top left you will see the tamarind-glazed chicken wings. These had a nice smoky-sweet flavor but I’m not sure what kind of premature infant chicken produced wings this small. In the middle is the brussels sprouts suya. I don’t know exactly what this means, but the sprouts were fried well and tossed with baby onions and a nice, slightly-spicy, tangy sauce. I would go as far as calling it delicious. On the right is the king crab curry that the staff wouldn’t shut up about. It was slightly sweet and coconutty, but it contained approximately 1.5 pieces of crab.

Bottom picture: these are the two “entree” dishes. I don’t get it. Are they for children? They said entree, but these bowls were the size of a bowl you might use to, say, eat ice cream, if you were actually following the guidelines on recommended portion size. The left is lentils. They were bland and I have nothing else to say about them. The right was the oxtail stew. For me, this was probably the best part of dinner and reminded me a lot of braised short rib due to its slow-cooked fattiness. It was a little smoky, a little spicy, and generally good. I should note that I seemed to like this more than everyone else I ate with, who agreed with each other that it was just okay.

Not wanting to waste any more money than we possibly had to, we asked for the check  and they instead brought us dessert menus. They must have confused my being a glutton with being a glutton for punishment, which I am not. We again asked for the check and received it. It was not unreasonable ONLY BECAUSE we were all starving. It was decided that a) this was my worst restaurant selection of all time, and b) we would pick up a pizza on the way home. We had some debate about pizza toppings. It’s hard with six people. Here’s the finished product:

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We demolished this pizza like the hyenas demolished Scar at the end of The Lion King. Fun fact: This large three-topping pizza cost less than one cocktail at Kith and Kin!

Price: $40 per person if you want to eat pizza afterward; $??? if you actually want to feel satisfied.

Bottom line: This place was so overpriced and so under-sized that I fear my review didn’t dis it quite enough. If you have a million dollars to blow and just can’t figure out how to spend it most prodigally, I can write you a list of at least ten better places.

Spice

Spice is a little Jamaican carry-out place I found while perusing google maps for a place to pick up lunch on the way to our Saturday afternoon outing to Sandy Spring Adventure Park. After seeing a number of Caribbean carry-outs in the area, and thus getting my heart set on jerk chicken, I settled on this one, mainly due to a) proximity to my driving route, and b) it opened at 11 rather than 11:30.

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We ordered a half-chicken, a beef patty, and the coco bread. I wanted to get my share of yummy Jamaican specialties, but also not go overboard at lunch. Friendly people, tables to sit at inside, good-size menu; all signs pointed to yum.

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The chicken was mostly moist, although it included a lot of gristle and was kind of (read: extremely) cold. The jerk sauce was definitely flavorful, but once again left me wanting more heat (both literal and figurative). The patty was good, but ultimately was just a normal beef patty. It was flaky and chock-full of ground beef, but it was not particularly well-seasoned, and I’m not convinced that it was made in-house. The coco bread was moist and flavorful, and would have paired well with the jerk sauce if I’d had more of it. I wanted to like it, I really did. But it just wasn’t anything better than okay. I also realize that at this point, I sound like some masochist whose only pleasure comes from eating overly spicy food. I swear I’m not.

…Well, maybe.

…But if you, reader, are averse to spicy food, you should probably just stop reading now.

Price: <$10 per person

Bottom line: Due to low cost, this place had a high return on investment, so it wasn’t a total loss. I got a solid chicken meal with standard jerk sauce, so I guess I can’t complain. Will look for other Jamaican restaurants in the future.