Chez Dior

I want to ask forgiveness preemptively for the absolute injustice I’m about to do Chez Dior in this description. I’ve eaten a lot of food. I’ve eaten a decent amount of African food. More than the average bear for sure. And yet I am still somehow extremely under-equipped to talk about the flavors of Senegal, as portrayed by Chez Dior.

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The building is unassuming. The interior looks like the inside of TGI Fridays run by religious zealot African immigrants. The owner was kind and welcoming and implored us to order anything off either the lunch or dinner menus. You know you’re in the right hole in the wall when the menu is full of typos. We wanted a healthy sampling of their offerings, plus I had already planned this meal extensively, so we ordered an appetizer, two entrees, and a side. I’ll just jump right in here.

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On the left is the Accra appetizer, black eyed pea fritters with tomato sauce. This worked really well. The tomato sauce was like a delicious spicy marinara. The fritters were crispy on the outside, soft and bean-y on the inside. On the right was my entree selection: Ndole with plantains. The greens were very bitter (as advertised) but also had an interesting depth. Buried under all that green is a large hunk of lamb, some of it tender. The plantains were not like typical Latin-American twice-cooked sweet plantains but more bitter, drier, and starchier.

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On the left here is the athieke side. I learned from Wikipedia that it’s a staple side in Senegal–basically couscous made from cassava instead of wheat–and I couldn’t pass it up because it’s such an interesting study in human geography. After I took the photo, the owner came back to deliver a spicy vinegar-cucumber salsa to go on top of it, which dramatically elevated it from plain couscous to saucy couscous. On the right is my husband’s dinner selection: the red and white fish. The jollof rice and the accompanying hearty sauce were great, and as I’ve stated many times, I believe that rice is a lame excuse for a carbohydrate. The fish was the star–a meaty white fish with a rich, almost beefy sauce. The vegetables with it were good–some boiled cassava, cabbage, and basically an entire carrot.

We asked for boxes to take home our leftovers and couldn’t even fit all the leftovers inside. Our table looked like a hurricane of rice and rice-like things had just blown through.

Price: $20 per person, with leftovers for days.

Bottom line: If you want to try something you’ve never had before, or you want to fill your plate with an inexplicable variety and excessive amount of carbs, Chez Dior is for you. Fine dining it is not, but it is a hole in the wall like none you’ve tried before.

El Quetzal

A last-minute cooking class cancellation left me dinnerless. Lost and alone in a world with too many food options, it was suggested that we check out a place near my work that I discovered while absentmindedly perusing Google Maps: El Quetzal. Finding the restuarant was no small feat because it’s tucked away inside La Union mall, Langley Park’s Guatemalan hub. From the outside, it looks like a dated office building, but being inside this mall was like being back in Quetzaltenango again. I had definitely found the hole-in-the-wall I was hoping for, and bonus: I now know where to go to send packages to Central America, get pan de yemas, and buy a dress for any and all future quinceaneras!

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I highly recommend El Quetzal as a place to practice your Spanish. I got the feeling that the staff there was kind of surprised to see our gringo asses in there, but in my mind, that’s how you know you’re in an authentic ethnic restaurant. Plus I’m a little too happy to play translator. We took a seat and meticulously planned our meal. Here’s what we ended up with:

20171101_155901.jpgPlatanos rellenos de frijoles:

When I had this in Guatemala, it was a life-changing blend of sweet plantain and smoky-savory refried beans. This was definitely made in-house but a little sad and dry from sitting in the hot box all day. The flavors were still right, though, and they were huge.

 

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Pollo pipian (left) and carne adobada (right): The chicken was stewed and tender, but I think my husband will have a mental breakdown the next time he encounters bone-in chicken stew. The sauce was gravy-esque, only slightly spicy, and not overly salty. Rice is rice. For the carne, I was expecting beef but I got pork ribs. Once again, the seasoning was right, although kind of standard. The meat was charred in places (not disappointing) but chewy and cartilage-y in others (disappointing). The salad was plain, but not the intended star. The beans were liquid and smoky. Rice is still rice. The best part was the tortillas, which were uncharacteristically moist and served warm.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: El Quetzal is sure to bring back memories of standard Guatemalan food if that’s your thing. They have a wide variety of platos tipicos that are surely authentic even though they aren’t all fresh off the comal. On the other hand, it might not be the best introduction to Guatemalan cuisine for you or your well-meaning spouse. Next time, you can find me at their downstairs neighbor, Pan y Pasteles La Chapina.