Andrene’s Cafe

It’s a Thursday when I find myself returning to “up and coming” Kennedy Street for a place that’s been on my list since…well, since the last time I was sorely let down by a Jamaican carry-out (looking at you, Spice). During the summer, my husband frequently badgers me to come visit and bring him a tasty lunch, like his own personal Red Riding Hood, and it’s our last day before another vacation, so I needed a break.

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Kennedy Street may be deserted during the day (and night–let’s be real), but inside Andrene’s it is hopping! The cashier manages to stay warm and friendly even while simultaneously taking my order, taking a phone order, calling out the food that’s ready, and gossiping with another West Indian man from the neighborhood. It’s pretty impressive. And, even though the combo menu specifies that there are no substitutions to the side orders of rice, plantains, and cabbage, she still gives me the option to change all of those. I leave with a bag, not knowing what magic is in store for me, and venture off through the woods…I mean…I-95…

I have to sit in traffic for close to an hour, so by the time arrive, I’m sure someone is about to comment about what big teeth I have because I am ready to eat anything that crosses my path. We pop the big platter in the microwave. Here’s how we made out for $27:

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Huge piece of coco bread, two beef patties, stewed green cabbage, rice and beans, plantains, oxtail, and jerk chicken. I will be upfront and let everyone know that we didn’t even come close to finishing this. The coco bread was mildly sweet, fluffy, and warm. The beef patties, although tepid by the time I arrived, were very savory with a sweet, flaky crust and a moist interior. The cabbage was a new thing for me. It was cooked so far that even Red Riding Hood’s toothless grandmother could have chewed it, but still had shape and a rich flavor. Plantains are always a winner in my book and these were no exception. The chicken was mostly moist with a few dry spots and a lot of bones, but had a good level of spice and a delicious sauce. The oxtail sauce was beyond delicious, and good for dipping bread in, although the meat itself was gristle-y in more than a few spots. Rice, as always, is rice, and there was a lot of it, although we barely ate any and still walked away from this meal overstuffed and with meat and bread left over.

Price: $10-15 per person.

Bottom Line: Andrene’s is good, and you can definitely get your money’s worth here, but I won’t rest until I find a truly awesome Jamaican restaurant. I know it’s out there.

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.

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!

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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:

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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.

Mark’s Kitchen

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I was in need of a little wholesome TLC in the form of some creative salad, so I stopped off at Mark’s Kitchen in Takoma on my way home from work. I’ve walked past this place a million times but never knew what it was about, and the name is so vague as to not give any hints about cuisine or cost. They have a huge menu of Korean-American fusion-y things and a cute storefront that sells artisanal jams alongside all kinds of muffins and Asian candies. Hoping for something light but also tasty, I ordered the seaweed salad with Korean steak to go.

By the time I got my food, I was just ready to grab it, go, and gobble it down at home, and at first glance through the plastic lid it looked fabulous, with a soy-ginger dressing and lots of gochujang sauce to make me happy.

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However. My plans for a delicious meal were quickly thwarted when I removed the three containers of dressing and noted the total dearth of food before me. I think the sauces actually weighed more than the other ingredients. I added a couple handfuls of baby spinach I happened to have sitting in my fridge and started digging in.

The meat was marinated, tasty, and well-cooked, but there was barely any. The seaweed was crunchy and savory. It was fishy at times, but I feel like that’s par for the course considering that it’s basically fish food. I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of my bonus avocado slices, although they were not exactly plentiful either. Gochujang is good, always.

I wanted a light meal and Mark’s Kitchen gave me a light meal. Then I ate a cup of yogurt. Then I was still hungry, so I just suffered.

Price: $15 per person for wimpy baby salad.

Bottom line: Considering I paid the same amount on a per-person basis for an enormous amount of bulgogi last Sunday, I think I can live without Mark’s Kitchen.

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.

City Kabob and Curry House

Although I usually spend my Sunday nights out and about–ok, fine, at Boundary Stone–there comes a time in all of our lives when we just have to spend the evening on the couch in our jammies. This was not the plan I had envisioned for my night tonight but whatever, I ain’t mad.

After a protracted debate about the type of cuisine we were comfortable ordering and perusing the limited options available from UberEats, we settled on kabobs, and City Kabob and Curry House was our place. Neither my husband nor I were particularly hungry, so ordering one entree and an appetizer to split seemed like the correct amount of food, right?

Wrong.

We ordered the chicken breast kabobs and samosa chaat. Here is the monstrosity of Foodzilla that showed up at my home 40 minutes later, chauffered by–no joke–a Lincoln Towncar:

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Other than sheer volume, however, I have few complaints. The naan was warm and fluffy. The chickpeas at the top of the photo were interesting; they were overwhelmingly cumin-y and served in a sauce that was pretty oily, but still delicious (or perhaps it was delicious entirely because of these things). The chicken on the right was well-seasoned, slightly smoky, slightly spicy, and only slightly dry. It definitely could have used some raita or chutney. Altneratively, I could have just thrown some plain yogurt from my fridge on top of it, but that would have required actually getting off my ass and what am I, a magician?

The star of this show was the samosa chaat in the middle of the photo. It was piled with so many toppings that I didn’t even ever see the actual samosa. I assume it was buried under there somewhere. The pastry skin was a little soggy from all that sauce but there is no such thing as a bad samosa, and I think this may have been an effect of the delivery. Where the chicken was lacking in delicious liquid toppings, the chaat shone. Chickpeas, tamarind chutney, raita, cucumbers…this thing had it all. It was smoky, it was sweet, it was savory, it was spicy.

This was $18 well spent.

Price: $10 per person

Bottom line: City Kabob makes it way too easy and cheap to be lazy, and UberEats totally classed it up with that Lincoln.