Red Toque Kabob

After a busy day of doing nothing, it was time to do more nothing, aka eating curry in my underwear with a bottle of wine while watching basketball. Side note: if I ever write my memoir, I’m going to title it Eating Curry in my Underwear with a Bottle of Wine While Watching Basketball. This is a recurrent theme in my life.

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Red Toque Kabob has gone through several incarnations in the past few years, including the latest one which 100% looks like a money laundering operation. There isn’t even a bathroom for customers (that I could see). Hell, there wasn’t even a counter for ordering, just some dude in a shadowy corner of the restaurant with an iPad.

I had basically settled on chicken curry earlier this morning (I like to do my research), but my husband hadn’t yet decided. To my shock and dismay, he actually passed up the chicken tikka masala in favor of chicken vindaloo, for which he did not even read the description. This became evident later. We also got a side of spinach and an order of beef samosas. Although he’s not good at reading menu descriptions, my husband did have enough forethought to ask for his dish extra-spicy, which gave me the perfect segue to do so as well.

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I’ll start with the samosa. It was flaky, it was full, it was beefy. “I wish we’d gotten the veggie samosa,” said my husband. But that’s unfair. We ordered beef, we got beef. It was very flavorful. It came with a raita dip that was very loose. I like my raita a little thicker. Moving on…

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If you can tell the difference between the chicken vindaloo (top left) and the chicken curry (top right), then my hat’s off to you. In fact, it took several side-by-side tastings for us to positively identify these as different (hint:  I read the menu and remembered that the vindaloo contains potato). Fortunately for them, they were both more than adequately spicy. I also appreciate the addition of chickpeas to my rice, which makes me feel like I’m not paying $13 for 10 cents worth of rice. But for reals, both of these curries were great. The chicken was tender and plentiful, the sauce was flavorful and spicy. The vindaloo was slightly tangier, the curry was slightly richer? Maybe? If you’re trying to choose between one of these two, just flip a coin.

The spinach was also great. I thought it would have paneer in it, but it was just straight-up spinach with garlic and onions. It was a huge portion too, and it had the added benefit of making me feel healthy while I ate this.

Price: $17 per person.

Bottom line: Yeah, you could probably find better Indian/kabobs/curry/whatever somewhere in DC but if you can just walk to Red Toque and it’s Final Four weekend (and you may or may not have a cheap bottle of malbec). don’t bother.

Kochix

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Kochix is nestled in a little corner of no-man’s-land between Bloomingdale, Shaw, Ledroit Park, and Truxton Circle that I often walk through while trying to nonchalantly look behind me. I’ve borne witness to more than one arrest at the bus stop across the street. As a result, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked past this little neighborhood spot and thought “Ummmmm no.” Even walking in here to pick up my order, it reminded me of traveling in South America, where every meal is an adventure in Should I really be eating this right now? Their storefront and their menu are barebones to the point of looking like a money laundering scheme, but the inside smells of amazing fry batter, and I felt like 4.5 stars on google don’t lie.

My husband and I split an order of yaki mandu, a bulgogi bap, and a small order of wings, which we were tipped off to order with “very hot” sauce as a special request.

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It turns out that google stars do lie. The mandu (bottom center) were nicely fried but fairly bland and only lightly stuffed with veggies. They needed a sauce and some more filling. The bulgogi bap (right) featured nice, soft beef and lots of well-cooked onions and cabbage on top of sticky rice, but it too was disappointingly plain. I threw some hot sauce on that puppy and it improved immensely. It could have used a fried egg too. There was nothing wrong with it, but I should never be able to make an ethnic dish better than people of that ethnicity who own a restaurant that serves said ethnicity’s food. This was sadly the case with the bulgogi.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kochix only really shined in the execution of the wings. They were fried to crunchy perfection. The meat inside was moist. The special extra-hot sauce was as advertised: sweet, tangy, and nose-runningly spicy, if extremely messy.

Price: $10 per person.

Bottom line: I can really only recommend the wings, which were outstanding. I wish they served tenders as well because sometimes you just don’t feel like getting sauce everywhere on your body and don’t really feel like working hard for your food. Were I to rate the meal as a whole on google, I’d probably give 2.85 stars (that seems right). Only the wings were deserving of 4.5

[The New] Zenebech!

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The old Zenebech would have made my “always yes” list but it closed about a year ago (RIP) and I thought all was lost. It was only last night, during an outing in AdMo, that I coincidentally noticed the NEW Zenebech in its fancy new location on 18th Street, so we headed there tonight. I was really worried about not getting a table because seating was tight in their old U Street location, so we arrived at around 6 to a nearly empty restaurant.

The inside of the restaurant was definitely a fancy step-up from their U Street hole in the wall. Nice bar with seating, subway tile, exposed brick, and say goodbye to the plastic chairs! This place got classy! The bar also had a decent selection of domestic craft beers on top of their usual Ethiopian bottles. We ordered basically immediately because, like I said, old Zenebech was our jam: one each of the beef and chicken sambusas, the vegetarian platter, and awazay tibs (which we reluctantly ordered with lamb, though we were fearful that it would be chewy).

In the old Zenebech, I would have been constantly tortured as platter after platter arrived for everyone except me. But here, the food arrived incredibly fast. The chicken sambusa was new, I believe, or at least new to me. My husband actually preferred it to the beef. The beef pastry was crispy and well-spiced. There was a new lentil addition to the vegetarian platter, which was milder in flavor than the other, and the lamb tibs was incredibly tender, though not as spicy as I would have liked, and too saucy to be either poured onto the injera or to be dipped into with the extra injera. We mostly ended up eating it with a spoon. My only other complaint is that I could barely walk out of the restaurant because I ate so much.

All in all, new Zenebech totally holds up, and their extremely reasonable prices will continue to make this a perennial favorite. The new AdMo location is no longer walkable for me the way U Street was, but considering how much I ate, perhaps that’s for the best.

The bottom line: Still delicious, will become a cult classic.

Price: Roughly $25 per person