Noodle King

For months I’ve been passing this roadside shanty with a potentially very over-promising name: Noodle King.

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Despite the ramshackle presentation (or maybe because of it), I suspected Noodle King might have more hidden beneath the surface than the rest of DC’s crack-den pizza-and-sub “Chinese American food” establishments. And for my last lunch date with my husband of the summer, I was DTE [The “E” stands for “eat.”]

I didn’t grab a photo of the interior because I didn’t want to look like a terrorist or a burglar casing the joint, but it’s a sure step up from the exterior. It’s well-decorated with a fair number of real wooden tables and two large tanks full of live lobsters. If I were a burglar, I would surely make note of the lobsters because this many of them would be worth a fortune on the seafood black market. Plus, unlike the aforementioned Chinese take-out places in DC, it lacked the seemingly omnipresent plexiglass anti-burglary dividers and people were actually eating there.

I waited until I arrived at my husband’s work to unwrap the goods:

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During my scoping out of the menu, I was intrigued by their casserole section and eventually ordered the above Eight Treasure Casserole. What is Hong Kong-style Casserole, you ask? If you were expecting the Chinese equivalent of Minnesota hotdish, you would be extremely wrong. Perhaps due to the logistical constraints of take-out, this casserole was missing a piece of critical hardware, but this seemed to me to be just a large jumble of your typical Chinese proteins and veggies cooked together in your typical sweet, sticky Chinese sauce. Don’t get me wrong; the pork was flavorful, there was lots of that wrinkly fried tofu that somehow only restaurants can make, and the shrimp and scallops were surprisingly soft, not the least bit chewy. The majority is comprised of the tofu, so be forewarned if this is not your thing.

I also ordered the spicy, sweet, and sour cabbage along with the curry noodles. Both of these were earmarked on the menu with the ominous chili pepper symbol. As we’ve already established, I generally consider this symbol to be an invitation and/or challenge. With the cabbage, I expected kimchi but got a crisp, sour salad that was not even kind of spicy, unless you consider ginger to be a spice, which I guess it technically is. The curry noodles were definitely the pinnacle of the meal, which I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised about given that I was dining at the literal KING of noodles. Once again, “spicy” is a gross overstatement, but the texture of the noodles was firm and chewy with a yellow curry flavor that was missing the coconut milk of Thai food and tasted closer to Indian. The chicken with it was delicate and well-seasoned too.

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This was a crazy amount of food but, for once this summer, I didn’t throw out the leftovers! These will bring me peace and happiness for, honestly, probably five more days.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: Come for the noodles, stay for the noodles. Everything else here seems like fairly standard Chinese fare, but they don’t call it Noodle King for nothing.

Mikko

I’m about to utter some words never before spoken in the English language: I miss the food I ate in Iceland. Before going there, I was a hardcore nay-sayer every time my friend mentioned wanting to eat their traditional food. But everything we found there was high-quality, fresh, and a plethora of delicious seafood that I’ve been trying to recreate at home ever since. Mikko has that adorable made-by-Ikea look that let’s you know this place is all about salmon.

Honestly, I was pretty disappointed with their whole set-up. Seating is extremely limited both inside and outside, with only the tiniest tables that honestly probably did come from the playroom department of Ikea, and you have to order at the counter. I get that this is more of a lunch place and we were there for dinner. I also get that counter ordering was inordinately stressful because there were five of us and nobody can agree. But if you are open for dinner, and if you have dishes that cost $18, you need to come to my table. You also need to provide glasses and bottle openers for your beer, come on guys!

My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law got their own stuff and it looked like this:

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It’s a mushroom quiche and I know it tasted good because my mother-in-law finished the whole thing without even trying to pressure anyone else to take a bite. The flip-side of this is that I can’t give you any idea of what this tasted like. Sorry!

The three cool people at the table decided to share some plates and they came out one at a time:

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These were small pieces of cheese but there was a huge variety of soft, hard, blue, and even two kinds of Scandinavian caramel cheese (top-middle and bottom-right), and they were so interesting and different from the usual (imagine that a babybell had a baby with dulce de leche).

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The meatballs were very beefy with the flavor of red wine, and a thin puree that I was surprised to taste was not mashed potatoes.

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On the menu, it definitely, definitely said “potato bliniS.” Plural. But this is one. It was approximately the size of a standard cookie. It’s larger in this picture than it was in real life. We split it into thirds and it was quite sad. On the other hand, salmon roe + sour cream + red onion = mouth heaven. There was a disproportionate amount of those things too, so I just kind of piled them on my fork and hoped nobody saw me.

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The salmon is categorized as an entree, so it was significantly larger than the other dishes. This thing was carrot city. The fish was so rich and, for lack of a better flavor descriptor, salmony. The carrots still had a lot of firmness too. I couldn’t stop picking at this.

After these four things, I was satisfied but not full. My MIL and Grandma ordered individual desserts from the lovely-looking pastry case, and three of us ordered lattes which, when they arrived, were the tiny tiny versions I became accustomed to ordering (several times a day) throughout Iceland. The brownie was also ridiculously fudgy and dense (no picture because it was eaten so quickly).

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: I think I’d come back here if I wanted to have a luxurious, wine-fueled lunch or tiny coffee. The food was mostly excellent, but with some rookie mistakes.

Ivy City Smokehouse

I was not expecting much when we walked up. I’d checked out the menu online and waffled about coming here. I’m a barbecue purist, and when I saw that their back room is set up as a club, I got skeptical. It sounded like a set-up for one of Stefan’s club recommendations on SNL: “If you’re looking to combine loud hip hop and lox, look no further than the Smokehouse club across from Fish Pro Wholesale…”

They quickly redeemed themselves by seating us on the gorgeous roof deck and we were met with probably too many good options. Fortunately, I narrowed it down by deciding to try only house-smoked foods. But first–drinks!

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Despite being served in plastic (an unforgivable offense given that this is not a frat party), my cucumber mojito was a perfect, refreshing mix of flavors and still liquor-y enough. It was everything you would want when you’re drinking something on the roof of a building on a Friday evening. The draft beers are 12 ounces but at $5-6 each, still a deal in DC.

For the appetizer, we ended up with the salmon candy board, one of the five options of house-smoked fish. I couldn’t be happier with this. The fish itself was sweet and smoky without being overpowering, although it didn’t pack the spicy punch I was promised. The chive cream cheese was perfect. Even the tartar sauce, usually my worst seafood nemesis, was inoffensive.

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For my meal, I had the mixed greens salad and paid a whopping $9 to add house-smoked rainbow trout. Now, I love salad, and I will pay $20 for a dinner salad while feeling only a little stupid about it, but you gotta deliver.

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And deliver they did. They had me at candied walnuts and pickled onion. Not only was the salad itself interesting, they did not cut corners in adding this fish which was only slightly less delicious than the salmon we had in the appetizer. It was smoky without being too dry, and definitely not over-salted. As you can see, there is basically an entire fish on here. I was extremely satisfied after eating this.

Now, on to the more important story, and for this we have to backtrack about five years. My husband once went on a business trip to New Orleans, and on his way to the airport he stopped in to a Jewish deli and ordered a Reuben. Now, if you’re like me (aka a normal person), you don’t exactly associate New Orleans with good Jewish delis, but that Reuben became the stuff of legends. Also, personally, I can’t even remember what I ate last week, let alone five years ago. I think it may be time to let go. For years he tried in vain to find an equivalent sandwich in DC (and in Chicago at an actual Jewish deli!) and was so let down that he eventually gave up and moped around. After much argument and pleading, I convinced him to try Ivy City Smokehouse’s Reuben-style pastrami sandwich. It was smoky, it was piled with meat, the bread was buttery, and it had Swiss cheese dripping off of it. And after polishing it off, my husband declared it both “the best Reuben in DC” and “the best Reuben I’ve had besides that one in New Orleans.” Here it is, in all its glory:

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Oh yeah, the fries and slaw were pretty good too. Just get this sandwich.

Service was a little slow, but you’re sitting on a roof deck, so what’s the hurry?

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Ivy City Smokehouse’s unique and delicious offerings of all kinds easily earn it a place at the top of my Favorites list.