Askale Cafe

I’ve clearly been jonesing for Ethiopian food lately. When my friend Kevin arrived in town after a red-eye flight, I insisted we stop here to refuel with spicy vegetarian goodness and coffee. I’ll keep this brief because it took both of us approximately 68 seconds to wolf down this meal. I surprised myself by ordering ful, the ultimate savory breakfast, as well as a latte.

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It took a long time to arrive, especially considering we were the only ones in the restaurant, but my meal arrived in this adorable little skillet with all the stuck-on crusties that I know will be impossible to wash off, so I know it came straight off the stove. It was pleasantly spicy but not overwhelming, and chock-full of beans, like a comforting chili. I’m not sure why it has never occurred to me to eat chili for breakfast–or to put an egg on top of my chili–but I think it’s high time I start. The bread was not housemade, but it was crusty and absorbent!

My latte was also flavorful and rich, which I expect from LITERALLY THE INVENTORS OF COFFEE. This makes me even more baffled by my unfortunate sludge-drinking experience at Abem Family Deli last weekend. I’m glad that Askale could make me whole again.

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Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Askale Cafe is a real treat and a neighborhood gem. Don’t miss the breakfast.

New York Pizza [and Grilled Kabob!]

Situated on what once was a not-great corner of Florida Ave. and North Capitol, New York Pizza looks like a relic from the 80’s. I confess that I didn’t go inside since I figured I could get my food faster if they brought it to me at my house (or I’m just lazy). It was only recently that I noticed a sign advertising Indian and Pakistani food. This is DC–where the Chinese restaurants sell burgers and the pizza places sell kabobs. They even rebranded themselves!

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Their pizza has, to put it lightly, middling reviews, plus Bacio is three blocks away, so I never even thought to come here. You can’t tempt me with greaseball pizza, nor with their questionably named NY Fish. No, only the siren song of lamb tikka could pull me in.

 

Because their website’s menu is different from their Grubhub menu, I called. I’m glad I did. Besides the two curry dishes, the veggie samosas grabbed my attention. “Sorry ma’am, we’re all out.” Falafel? “We’re out of that too.” That’s okay. I stuck with the two entrees, and my bathroom scale would ultimately thank me.

The car pulled up not 30 minutes later carrying our own little slice of heaven.

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Lamb tikka. Great lamb flavor, pleasant spice, complimentary side salad, enough rice to make a dent in world hunger? Check, check, check, and check. The meat was slightly tough, but not overly chewy or fatty.

mvimg_20180805_182224.jpgThe chicken curry was less meat than it looked like due to the abundance of bones. On the other hand, the meat dropped off said bones with no effort and the sauce was rich while still packing a nice heat.

The sides that came with our meals were spinach and potatoes, and curry chickpeas. I enjoyed the spinach but it was more bitter and liquefied than your typical Indian palak, and the chickpeas were pleasantly earthy. They included an extra little container of rice, because I guess we didn’t have quite enough or something. And the bread…sweet baby Jesus. I have never had naan like this from anywhere. It was crustier and thickener than the typical naan, but also more flavorful, like a cross between naan and pizza dough. Come to think of it, it may have actually been the exact same thing as their pizza crust. Yeah…I’m pretty sure it was. Don’t care, it all sops up the sauce the same way. [Note: There were actually TWO huge pieces of pizza naan included] [Confession: I had to throw it in the trash can to stop myself from continuing to steal bites of it after dinner].

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Overall, this meal completely upended all my prejudices about New York Pizza. I feel like this place is that flamboyant kid in high school who joins the football team just to prove how not-gay he is when what he really wants to do is dance. Come out of the pizza-closet, guys! We see you in there and we love you for who you are! It’s way better than who you’re pretending to be!

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Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Prepare to be fairly impressed, and prepare for leftovers. PS I was not even a little sad about not having samosas or falafel because this was still way too much food.

Abem Family Supermarket and Deli

I’ve lived around the corner for five years, so I’ve seen this piece of property change hands more than a marble in a shyster’s shell game, and I’ve seen it go from closed down, to an open but nearly-empty storefront that probably [read: definitely] housed a cockfighting ring in the back, to closed again, to a slightly less empty front that looks like it could be a money-laundering business but seems to be collectively owned by a very nice Ethiopian family. My husband and I generally refer to this place as “the Soviet market” because although they do stock a fair number of Ethiopian spice blends and some lesser-known candy bars, they never seem to have more than half the shelves full, and it’s always stuff we don’t want. I should also mention that I was once conned into buying a huge jar of Ethiopian spiced butter here that didn’t have a price tag but rang up as $28.99 (to my credit, though, I use that stuff all the time for cooking).

Now, the aforementioned nice Ethiopian family have been swearing up and down to me for at least a year that they are going to turn half the space into an Ethiopian cafe but aside from some empty fridges and day-old coffee, that plan never seemed to materialize. So imagine our surprise when, this morning, we received an email on the neighborhood listserv alerting us to their new brunch menu! We knew it was legit when we walked up and saw these Ethiopian-themed balloons.

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We appeared to be the first customers. They’d decorated the restaurant space in a, let’s say, minimalist vein. The women working behind the food counter showed us big trays of their vegetarian offerings–the standard Ethiopian fare–and told us they also had tibs. We ordered both, along with a coffee. They were all set up for a traditional coffee ceremony to be held later this afternoon, so I would think that they would take more pride in their regular brew. Sidamo on H Street has totally mastered the art of good coffee for the masses. Fortunately, this cold, sludgy French vanilla nightmare was the low point of the meal.

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As you can see, the vegetarian platter had all the usual yums with some fun additions–carrots and green beans, and stewed kale replacing the traditional collards. And all of it was served cold (I asked one of the workers if this was an intentional choice and she responded that they had made everything last night, so…maybe?) If you are a fan of cold Chinese food or, as I have recently discovered, cold Thai curry, then cold Ethiopian food is for you! Even my husband the kale-hater liked their kale. The red lentils and yellow peas were both great, but the brown lentils were kind of bland.

MVIMG_20180804_123740.jpgHere’s the tibs. It was so much that we took home enough for one person’s lunch tomorrow. The meat was hot and mostly cooked well, with a few very chewy sections. It was served in a bowl of oil reminiscent of Sichuan hotpot. They gave us the dixie cup full of berbere, which we fully utilized, but would have worked better had it been added during cooking. I think maybe they were trying hard to cater to uninitiated tastes but as they always say: If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the Ethiopian restaurant.

Abem Family Deli also sells a variety of salads, boring sandwiches, and, bizarrely, tacos. Everyone knows that tacos are the official food of gentrification, so there’s some weird neighborhood stereotyping going on here. I may have to try some just to report back.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: Abem Family Deli is not the best Ethiopian food in town, but it’s definitely the closest to me! I will continue to support them periodically in hopes of more offerings, more hours, more tables, and better coffee.

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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.

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.

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.