Pluma

I don’t usually do breakfast at all, let alone breakfast out, but it was Wednesday, and I was desperately needing to take myself on a coffee date. And sometimes on dates, things just happen that we might later regret. In this case, food.

First of all, even since the last time I reviewed a place in Union Market, this place has changed significantly. I live basically around the corner and I didn’t even realize until last weekend all the hipster eateries and shops that have sprung up in between the Chinese butcheries. This whole area now smells like a weird mixture of pig blood and avocado toast (a menu option that appears–laughably–on the menus at both Pluma and Blue Bottle across the street).

I perused the pastries. I fretted over the menu. And then I settled on maybe the most unhealthy thing on the entire menu: the breakfast sammy. And a latte.

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The latte:

Mellow, smooth, bitter, and creamy. Small, but at $4, still a better deal than the $7 paper-cup, too-cold POS latte I got last weekend across the street at Blue Bottle (it didn’t even have latte art!) This was a great drink to chill out with by the window with a good book.

 

 

The breakfast sammy includes green salsa, pork belly, and a runny egg served on Pluma’s fresh sourdough. In short, it puts other breakfast sandwiches to shame. The toasty sour bread held up okay to the wet salsa, but the real pleasure of this was in the thick, maple-y sweet slab of pork belly that, while not exactly being fork-tender, had a great crust around the edge that reminded me of a solid BBQ bark. And if you like your eggs as runny as possible, you’ve come to the right place.

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So, like many dates, this one ended with a decision that wasn’t exactly the best, but that I don’t really regret either.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Mmmmm.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bidwell

 

20171208_183703.jpgAhhhh Union Market, the mecca of urban parents trying to feed their toddlers artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches. Bidwell would be no exception and we were not immune to the three year-old screeching in the booth behind us. It’s always kind of creepy when you encounter kids in restaurants in DC, right? You don’t notice that they’re not there until they’re suddenly there. And loud.

I can’t deny that Bidwell is beautiful. It also feels a bit like eating at, say, Cheesecake Factory in that it’s sort of the flagship upscale restaurant inside of a larger food court (the food court, in this case, being all of Union Market). The service was also friendly and the menu was extensive, although my discerning spouse was quite skeptical of their draft beer list.

We got all of our ordering out of the way immediately–a house cocktail, two beers, and a glass of wine, plus their fried deviled eggs and burratta to start. I ordered the arugula and pork belly salad, my husband had the short rib, my mother-in-law got the kekele (prosciutto and pineapple) pizza, and my father-in-law had their daily lasagna special. My mother-in-law was asked what type of pizza crust she wanted, and our server recommended the charcoal crust for its smoky flavor. You see, Bidwell had four types of crust to choose from and not one of them is just a normal pizza crust. Because this is a restaurant that caters to the organic gummy snacks crowed and did you know? Charcoal helps your digestion. It also tastes like an ashtray.

My drink, the You Like Daq?, was grapefruity and refreshing. The starters were also brought out quickly. I have no complaints. I’d never had fried deviled eggs before and they were quite delicious, with a buttermilk dipping sauce that I discovered too late. The burratta was creamy and the beets were roasted and delicious. I wish it had had more of the hazelnut topping.

My salad, and my husband and father-in-law’s entrees were brought out first. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited for my mother-in-law’s pizza. I mean, we waited in the sense that we noticed her pervasive lack of food but it didn’t actually prevent anybody from eating.

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My salad was crisp and refreshing, with apples, which I like, and fennel, which I also like. What first appeared to be two small pieces of pork belly turned out to be one very large piece of very melty, yummy pork belly whose fattiness was countered with the sting of red onion and tartness of apple. Yum.

My husband’s short rib was tasty, moist, and fork-tender with buttery mashed potatoes and a modicum of brussels sprouts that Bidwell would have you believe are “caramelized,” but which were really just lightly roasted. They were certainly not the worst, but they were just brussels sprouts, cooked the way your annoying vegan aunt might cook them. My father-in-law’s lasagna was fairly good lasagna with crispy cheese on top and plenty of meat, but still just…fairly good, standard lasagna.

Finally the pizza arrived. I think they may have started adding charcoal to the crust to cover up their propensity for burning the crust. Prosciutto is good. Pineapple is good. Charcoal crust tastes ashy. I appreciate good ingredients but there is nothing groundbreaking or interesting about this pizza.

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We got the dessert menu but nothing looked life-changing so we opted for liquid dessert across the street at Cotton and Reed and were not disappointed.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: I guess I’d eat here again if, like, one of my friends’ kids was severely craving organic PB&J or something.