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.

Kochix

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Kochix is nestled in a little corner of no-man’s-land between Bloomingdale, Shaw, Ledroit Park, and Truxton Circle that I often walk through while trying to nonchalantly look behind me. I’ve borne witness to more than one arrest at the bus stop across the street. As a result, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked past this little neighborhood spot and thought “Ummmmm no.” Even walking in here to pick up my order, it reminded me of traveling in South America, where every meal is an adventure in Should I really be eating this right now? Their storefront and their menu are barebones to the point of looking like a money laundering scheme, but the inside smells of amazing fry batter, and I felt like 4.5 stars on google don’t lie.

My husband and I split an order of yaki mandu, a bulgogi bap, and a small order of wings, which we were tipped off to order with “very hot” sauce as a special request.

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It turns out that google stars do lie. The mandu (bottom center) were nicely fried but fairly bland and only lightly stuffed with veggies. They needed a sauce and some more filling. The bulgogi bap (right) featured nice, soft beef and lots of well-cooked onions and cabbage on top of sticky rice, but it too was disappointingly plain. I threw some hot sauce on that puppy and it improved immensely. It could have used a fried egg too. There was nothing wrong with it, but I should never be able to make an ethnic dish better than people of that ethnicity who own a restaurant that serves said ethnicity’s food. This was sadly the case with the bulgogi.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kochix only really shined in the execution of the wings. They were fried to crunchy perfection. The meat inside was moist. The special extra-hot sauce was as advertised: sweet, tangy, and nose-runningly spicy, if extremely messy.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: I can really only recommend the wings, which were outstanding. I wish they served tenders as well because sometimes you just don’t feel like getting sauce everywhere on your body and don’t really feel like working hard for your food. Were I to rate the meal as a whole on google, I’d probably give 2.85 stars (that seems right). Only the wings were deserving of 4.5

Mark’s Kitchen

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I was in need of a little wholesome TLC in the form of some creative salad, so I stopped off at Mark’s Kitchen in Takoma on my way home from work. I’ve walked past this place a million times but never knew what it was about, and the name is so vague as to not give any hints about cuisine or cost. They have a huge menu of Korean-American fusion-y things and a cute storefront that sells artisanal jams alongside all kinds of muffins and Asian candies. Hoping for something light but also tasty, I ordered the seaweed salad with Korean steak to go.

By the time I got my food, I was just ready to grab it, go, and gobble it down at home, and at first glance through the plastic lid it looked fabulous, with a soy-ginger dressing and lots of gochujang sauce to make me happy.

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However. My plans for a delicious meal were quickly thwarted when I removed the three containers of dressing and noted the total dearth of food before me. I think the sauces actually weighed more than the other ingredients. I added a couple handfuls of baby spinach I happened to have sitting in my fridge and started digging in.

The meat was marinated, tasty, and well-cooked, but there was barely any. The seaweed was crunchy and savory. It was fishy at times, but I feel like that’s par for the course considering that it’s basically fish food. I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of my bonus avocado slices, although they were not exactly plentiful either. Gochujang is good, always.

I wanted a light meal and Mark’s Kitchen gave me a light meal. Then I ate a cup of yogurt. Then I was still hungry, so I just suffered.

Price: $15 per person for wimpy baby salad.

Bottom line: Considering I paid the same amount on a per-person basis for an enormous amount of bulgogi last Sunday, I think I can live without Mark’s Kitchen.

Hwa Gea Jang Tuh

I’ve shamefully been rocking the suburbs a lot this weekend, so I once again apologize for this extremely un-DC post, but it’s worth it. Besides, Rockville is basically synonymous with Korean BBQ and DC is synonymous with terrible Asian cuisine, so this was the only way I was going to get my fix.

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Hwa Gea Jang Tuh had the dubious honor of being in the exact vicinity I needed it to be. Upon arrival, we found that we were the only non-Koreans in the entire restaurant, which is always a good sign. This ain’t Mandu on K Street. Oh no, people. This is real Korean food. This is the kind of Korean BBQ that led me and my husband to engage in a lengthy debate about who would be the unlucky person who would have to timidly ask when we could eat our dinner. These are the issues you face when you’re an introvert married to another introvert. Who will invite people to our party? (Me). Who will call Comcast to yell at them? (Me). Who will be home when the AC repairman comes? (9 times out of 10: me). Who will ask the Korean BBQ waitress an embarrassing question? (Probably also me).

Everything is ordered for a group of 2+ people. If you want to try multiple meats, TOO BAD. Bring some friends, I guess? We ordered the bulgogi, as you do. We also got an order of shrimp shumai to start. Our server brought out the shumai along with all the meat and fixings and got to work. I have never seen a place bring out so many individual bowls of yum-yums, which included miso soup and salad. Few restaurant experiences are better than watching someone cook your food right in front of you, so Hwa Gea Jang Tuh totally delivers. From the time our server brought out the domed griddle to the time I pulled my meat off of it, I was mesmerized by the whole experience. She also–thankfully–told us when the meat was ready to eat, so our whole argument was for naught.

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The bulgogi was served as DIY lettuce wraps, although there was a small bowl of rice included. Here is my finished product:

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The shrimp shumai were delicate and lightly flavored but still shrimpy, and a good size for an appetizer. The meat was seasoned and cooked perfectly with a soft texture and tons of flavor. The bean sprouts and kimchi added good crunch and heat, and the bean paste was salty-umami goodness. I like the lettuce wrap concept too. My biggest complaint is that there wasn’t quite enough of all the fixings for two people, particulary the kimchi. I could have eaten three bowls of it by myself, so it was kind of painful for me to share. I also would have liked something spicy to top my wrap.

Although I’m happy with this meal and the service, I’m not sure what differentiates it from any of the twenty other Korean BBQ joints in Rockville. It’s great but not life-changing.

Price: $20 per person.

Bottom line: Ultimately, this place was a good deal on a good-sized meal with hot tea and a spectator experience thrown in to boot. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by, but don’t make a special trip (it is super far away).

Seoul Food

I got a hot tip on this place, which is located very deceptively inside a gas station in Wheaton. In fact, I had a horrible time finding it because it’s not readily apparent from the outside and almost had a mental breakdown because I just wanted some Korean food. Sadly, this would not have been the first time I cried over not being able to find a restaurant. In order to spare everyone else the trouble and the tears, you can enter through the doors on the University Blvd. side or from the gas station entrance.

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seoulfood3The menu looks beautiful and there are a lot of options and sides, and great options for vegetarians. I wanted to keep it on the light side, and I was eating alone, so I went with the bibimbap (no rice because that’s how I roll) with bulgogi beef and the regular kimchi, and I ordered it spicy. They were nothing if not fast, and the two dishes arrived on beautiful plates and looking very composed. The bibimbap was on a bed of baby spinach with tons of shredded carrot and daikon. The kimchi was a little on the small side, but it looked great.

seoulfood1Kimchi: very refreshing with a nice semi-wilted, semi-crunchy texture, but dramatically under-spiced. I come from the school of thought that kimchi should be painful to eat and this was not.

Bibimbap: The beef was cooked nicely and tender, and it was a sufficient amount. The baby spinach and other veggies were fresh and the daikon was nice and cool. And my #2 rule of food is that a fried egg makes almost anything better. On the other hand, calling this “spicy” is an insult to all spicy things, and it was just generally nothing special. The sauce was good, but it needed more of it in general as both the veggies and the meat were pretty dry. I’ve made bibimbap at home and this tasted no better than mine, and I promise I’m not secretly some super-talented Korean chef.

Price: $15 per person

Bottom line: Seoul Food was just alright. I might even consider it good if I remember that it’s located inside of a gas station, but I feel like that should have no bearing on its rating. I think it was slightly overpriced for what I got, but it fed me, I feel good about what I ate, and I’d go here again if I were in the area and someone else wanted to try it and everything better was closed.