Dorjee Momo

We arrived at Dorjee Momo at 5:05 and didn’t see a line, so we assumed we were ahead of the game. They don’t take reservations except for a 4-person, $45-per-head hot pot meal and we weren’t doing that for a regular Friday night. We found out from yelling to the server setting tables on the deck above us that they didn’t open until 5:30 but we should definitely stick around to hold on to our spot. “Ten more minutes until we change your life!” taunted another employee who was setting up downstairs. Change my life? Challenge accepted! That’s when the porch started to fill up with other potential diners. Don’t worry, I was very forthcoming in passive-aggressively letting the other people in line know exactly who had arrived first. I intended to be the first to walk in that door and I probably would have trampled anyone who tried to stop me.

Then I found out that the fancy hot pot people get priority seating and they were all there: three whole groups of them! I was getting nervous. I’d been warned that there was very limited space inside and besides, I really wanted to sit on the deck, like, really bad. But friends–never fear! There are only three reserved hot pot tables and a reasonable amount of seating to go around. And in case you’re wondering…

img_20180413_175322.jpg

…yes, we did snag the four seats on the balcony and yes, it was just as incredible as it sounds. Besides a fantastic view in beautiful April weather, the beverage pictured here is the #girlboss (their hashtag, not mine), a tart vodka-basil-yuzu concoction that tasted like drinking a flower, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.

We ended up ordering six dishes from the menu–two veggie and four that were meat-based.

 

mvimg_20180413_180157.jpg

First up: chive momo. These were fantastic and not at all bitter from the chives like we expected them to be. The signature sauce that Dorjee Momo uses is spicy rather than flat-out hot. It has some of the numbing qualities of the Sichuan peppercorns, but it’s a balanced flavor instead of that uncomfortable mouthful-of-novocaine sensation that I’ve had elsewhere. We also had the lamb momo, which had a similar profile from the spices but had a good partnership with the lamb, which was moist and meatball-esque.

mvimg_20180413_181750.jpg

The sunflower buns (left) were heavenly. The bun part was so soft but it was covered in crunchy fried garlic and filled with tender spinach. The sauce was pesto-like, which was unexpected. The pickle plate on the right might look sad to you. It did to me too, at first. But when you take into consideration that I literally have no idea what half of the things are on this plate, that’s probably pretty good, right? Each vegetable is also marinated in its own special pickle brine to complement the individual flavors. The stick-like thing on the bottom right is not celery, but it was tangy and salty. Pickled garlic is always a solid choice. There was cauliflower, bitter melon, lotus, an egg, and a really unique citrus rind.

img_20180413_180400.jpg

The Beef Shapta pulled us in with promises of 48-hour marinated beef. It also didn’t disappoint. Once again just mildly spicy, the beef was tender, and the softness was offset by crispy fried yuca.

MVIMG_20180413_183227.jpg

I saved the best for last! The coconut beef curry was highly recommended by our waitress and we almost didn’t get it. That would have been an actual crime against flavor. It looks bad, mostly because its appearance is highly reminiscent of my recent experience eating special Salvadoran spleen stew (I didn’t know that it was spleen when it was served to me and now the horrible smell haunts me). Where was I? Oh yeah…so this beef curry, although beautiful, was not the most appetizing thing to me due to my personal emotional trauma, but it was quick to make up for that. This was like beef therapy. It was rich and coconutty, spicy in a way that would not be unbearable to your ordinary layperson, and had a texture somewhere between ground beef and short rib. This was a don’t-miss dish, as were the sunflower buns.

We passed up on dessert, vegan ice cream, because it was vegan ice cream. This is my main suggestion for improvement for Dorjee Momo.

Side note: we spied on the hot pot tables inside, which looked AMAZING. I’m saving up that idea so that I can peer pressure my bestie into coming here for my next birthday.

Price: $45 per person.

Bottom line: Dorjee Momo promised to change my life. They did. They will change yours too. Just make sure you get there at 5:00 and bring your brass knuckles on the very real chance that you have to fight for your seat. I would do jail time for this place.

Chloe

I’m back, baby! And this week, a reservation I’ve been holding on to for a few weeks: Chloe! I’m surprised I even made a reservation at a restaurant called Chloe considering that it’s a name a thirteen year-old girl gives to a Chihuahua, and I’m not really sure I remember how or why I found out about this restaurant in the first place (I thought it was in Shaw, but it definitely isn’t), but here we go. Stupid names aside, the inside was beautiful. I liked their comfy chairs and many succulent plants, as well as our clear view of the kitchen. I love to see the inner workings.

I’ve seen few things that are hands-down ridiculous, but here’s one of them: Chloe carries two breweries–draft from Hellbender here in DC, and cans from Prairie in…Oklahoma? What? Why? Ready for it to get more ridiculous? While the draft beers were a normal DC price of $9, he cans cost TEN DOLLARS. In what universe is a canned beer more than a draft beer? I’ll tell you where–the same ridiculous universe where a draft beer constitutes eight ounces, served in a stemless wine glass. Aka The alternate universe we know as Chloe.

The Prairie beer was okay, the Hellbender beer was okay, and my rum cocktail was pretty delicious. In short, drinks were nothing to write home about. But we weren’t expecting CopyCat and that’s not why we were there. Our waiter told us about their small plates-based menu. “For a table of four we recommend ten to fourteen dishes.” So….your whole menu then? Let’s just do the math here. If we generously assume that each dish you order here costs $15, 14 of them would come out to $210, and that wouldn’t even include drinks. So no. I ordered bread for my bread-loving mother-in-law, the house pickles, butternut squash salad, crispy cauliflower, salmon, and the chicken, which is one of the “larger” dishes.

One thing I appreciate is how vegetable-forward they are here. There were very few meat dishes at all. On the other hand, I feel kind of stupid paying $17 for some arugula and butternut squash that I could have just gotten at the Whole Foods salad bar.

Bread came first. Let’s just pause here to make a prediction. How much would you pay for five tiny slices of bread? Here’s a picture for reference (I shrunk the picture a little to more accurately represent the actual size of the bread):

MVIMG_20180323_190954.jpg

If your answer was “Nothing, you dumb dumb, because bread is supposed to be free and unlimited!” then you would be wrong. If you said, “Four dollars!” then you are both correct and insane. Let’s just say, not a great first impression.

The pickles made a slight recovery. Of special note was the pickled garlic, which didn’t even taste or feel like garlic but was undoubtedly delicious. The peppers were great too–neither too spicy nor too mild, but they needed more of these and the cornichons.

mvimg_20180323_191546.jpg

The rest of the food, save for the chicken, came out fairly quickly. Next we had the butternut squash salad. Once again, it tasted fine, but $17 fine? I don’t even know what $17 fine means. A $17 steak would probably be fine. A $17 plate of arugula with a few pieces of squash is definitely not fine.

MVIMG_20180323_191622.jpg

Cauliflower was the next thing out. This was the only thing that was truly delicious. It was a great crispy texture and tahini and pine nuts are always winners. It was something I had just never thought to combine into one dish, but my husband reminded me, “You could do this at home and it would probably be better.” So he earned his brownie points for the night I guess!

The quinoa-crusted salmon (or, as my father-in-law might call it: “Quin-what?”) was cooked well, extremely flaky and buttery, and I liked the extra crunch that was lent it by the quinoa. But again, way too small.

mvimg_20180323_191920.jpg

I regret that I didn’t get a picture of the chicken, but we were so hungry by the time it arrived that we basically ate it off the serving plate like cavemen. It was the only thing that was a reasonable size. I liked the crispy skin (although my husband thought it had a weird texture), and the Asian greens were cooked well. Bone-in chicken doesn’t make a good share plate, though, and the “chili-lime sauce” (aka fish sauce with some chili flakes) was lackluster.

We left and went across the street to Bluejacket where we all pigged out on dessert and had reasonably-priced good beer. No regrets.

Price: Like many of my best-laid plans these days, there is a huge disparity in how much we spent vs. how much one would have to spend in order to be fairly satisfied. I’ll say the range could be anywhere from $40 per person to $100 per person.

Bottom line: Chloe was good, but good is not fair when you’re paying $25 for a chicken leg. Our waiter was not lying when he said that 10 plates would be a good size meal for four people. But Bluejacket is across the street and they have a brownie sundae, so…

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!

wp-1520638339827.jpg

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:

wp-1520638246978.jpg

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.

Barrel

My in-laws constantly wax poetic about their regular place, Barrel. Not a week passes without hearing “So the other night at Barrel…” Finally, we had to try it.

20171215_175236.jpg

Barrel is known for–pretty obviously–their whiskey. Something that should be known about my father-in-law is this: he is fantastic at finding great cocktail bars. He is also great at presuming that they have good food, and we have been burned by this assumption enough times to not let him choose restaurants based on drinks alone anymore. Remember a few weeks ago when we ate at Kith and Kin and then went savage on a Bacio pizza because it wasn’t enough food? Regrettably, that wasn’t our first time doing this. I will take the blame for Kith and Kin but let’s just establish the fact that no, you can’t eat dinner at Denson. And as soon as we sat down at Barrel, which has a great vibe, by the way, my FIL said, “Okay, so the food here isn’t the greatest…” I had kind of already set some low expectations for the food, but I probably made a face when he said that.

We ordered drinks–two solid craft beers on draft, a wine, and I had the A Henway cocktail. It was made with gin and blackberries; it tasted like gin and not a lot else. I immediately regretted this decision, but it’s my fault and my fault alone. It sure was pretty though.

Barrel’s menu is organized horribly. You will see why later. It has three sections that don’t make a whole lot of sense: starters, grub and sammys (?), and pasta. Why is pasta not also classified as grub? It’s also not terribly cohesive. Tacos? Pasta? Crab rangoon? Jerk ribs? Barrel has no idea what it wants to be when it grows up. Barrel is, like, three years into college and still a freshman because it has changed its major so many times.

We ordered the brussels sprouts for the table. They are made with Asian flavors (I rest my case), tons of fish sauce, chili, and peanuts. They were salty, savory, and delectable. I could eat this all day.

My in-laws warned us about Barrel’s spicy spicy buffalo chicken sandwich, so naturally we had to get that. We also decided that maybe it wouldn’t quite feed two people and we should also get another small dish. Having no direction whatsoever in terms of choosing an appropriately-sized dish, we settled on the lamb nachos, which were served over sweet potato chips. We thought that would be the right amount of food. We chose poorly.

The chicken sandwich was nothing to sneeze at. I like the soft ciabatta roll and the pickles and the red onions. The flavors melded nicely. The chicken was tender with a good crust. It was not spicy. The lamb nachos were ENORMOUS and only nachos in the loosest sense of the word. That is, it was something on top of chips. Again, I like ground lamb. I like subtle curry spice. I like sweet potato chips. But how are these nachos without cheese?

20171215_180335.jpg

20171215_180234.jpg

 

Meanwhile, my father-in-law ordered TWO orders of the carnitas tacos because, being a regular, he knew that this plate was tiny and he would need two plates of it to even come close to representing a full meal. The tacos were pretty basic: weirdly bland carnitas, cilantro, and cheese. All three of the aforementioned dishes were located in the “grub and sammys” section of the menu. How could one possibly know what size of food one is ordering?

So as it turned out, it wasn’t Barrel’s quality of food that diminished them in my mind. The quality was good, the food was tasty, the brussels sprouts were a stand-out. It was the fact that they don’t quite have a handle on basic existential questions such as Who am I? and What am I doing here? and What kind of food is this? Barrel needs to take a gap year and backpack across Europe or something.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Barrel is a great joint for happy hour and trying new whiskey, or drinking one of their famous barrels of Old Fashioneds. Although I didn’t try the Mac and Cheese (since I thought it would be too much food but it turns out that would have actually been an appropriate amount), I saw and smelled it and I can recommend it based on this alone. Bring some friends and get some diverse bar food.

Ana at District Winery

20171103_182313.jpg

Awwww yisssss. I’ve been waiting for this reservation for about six weeks. I literally only heard about this place from my weekly “What’s new in DC!” email from Yelp and I made reservations without knowing anything about it. I still didn’t have any idea where we were going when we were in the uber. I had just heard the words “district” and “winery,” and I was in.

District Winery has some prime waterfront real estate in Navy Yard. Their whole setup is impressive. Multitudinous bottles greet you when you arrive, along with not one but TWO levels of hosts (kind of unnecessary, but I’ll choose to see this as a mark of excellence) and the ambiance is great.

I felt like I should have ordered wine at a place with wine in its name, but their first house cocktail caught my eye and I couldn’t stop myself: “A Figment of Your Imagination.” If you hoped and dreamed that this cocktail would be a pun on figs, then I have some good news for you! It didn’t disappoint either; spicy rye, pungent walnut bitters, and a skewer of warm smoked figs on top made this memorable and definitely figgy. My husband ordered their house Malbec and was very satisfied. The cocktails were pricey but sadly not as pricey as the wine. They didn’t offer any economy-class wine, but it’s not exactly Trader Joe’s, I guess.

We went a little overboard tonight in the name of research. So, starting with the octopus appetizer: the pineapple flavor of the sauce was very apparent and peppery but the octopus itself could have been better texture-wise, both less chewy on the inside and more crispy on the outside. But I don’t want to dis it too much because we demolished it and it was not by any means the worst octopus I’ve ever had.

The entrees were where this place really shone:

20171103_185430.jpgBetween the two of us we had the celery root cappeletti (left) and the smoked duck (right). Starting with the pasta: the filling burst out in your mouth like soup dumplings full of pleasantly bitter celery root. The rabbit sausage in it was, for lack of better explanation, gamy in a good way, and the parm paired well with everything else in the dish. This was a perfect dish. The duck was mostly cooked well, although there were parts that were slightly more done than I would like, but it was served atop a sauce that was savory and smoky in all the right places, and made a great companion to the meat. The plantains and snap peas were plentiful and interesting, playing on the sweet/smoky theme.

20171103_192206.jpgAgain, research led us to pursue dessert and everything on the menu sounded interesting so we had a hard time deciding. After our server was absolutely zero help in making any of the desserts sound less appealing, we resorted to using a random number generator for choosing (I wish I were kidding about this) and ended up with the hummingbird cake. Literally nothing could possibly top the entrees, so I shouldn’t be too disappointed that the cake wasn’t everything I dreamed of. What it was: moist, nutty, served with a killer pineapple sherbet. What it wasn’t: particularly flavorful on its own. The sherbet was supposed to be the sidekick but it kind of pushed its way into the spotlight and covered up the main item. I kind of identify emotionally with the hummingbird cake and its subtlety. This cake just needed some less extroverted friends to hang out with, that’s all.

The service couldn’t be beat. It was a place that it felt normal to wear jeans, but they still folded my napkin for me when I went to the bathroom and replaced the silverware after the appetizer. From start to finish, everything was a little overpriced, but in a classy way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re being ripped off. At least for the big price tag, I got well-composed delicious food.

Price: $50 per person.

Bottom line: It would be hard to eat a better meal in DC while wearing jeans. The food and drinks could be seen as pricey, but you could instead choose to see them as totally worth it. Go ahead, treat yo’self.