250 Texas BBQ

Marnay and I had never really thought that much about barbecue, until our trip to Texas changed everything. Now that we are back home in the DC area, we have been looking for a place to find authentic Texas barbecue. Somehow, 250 Texas BBQ appeared on my radar and I very glad that it did.

250 Texas BBQ consists of a husband and wife, Fernando and Debby. They operate mainly out of the Riverdale Park Farmers Market, which happens every Thursday year-round from 3pm-7pm. Let me tell you, they are the real deal. They use 100% wood when smoking their meats. There’s no gas-assist. As for the type of wood, they use apple wood for poultry and then either oak or hickory for pork and beef. Still, they will adapt to whatever wood is available from their farmer partners at the Farmers Market.

Fernando and Debby at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

Fernando spent a good amount of time in Austin, becoming a regular at some of the legendary Central Texas barbecue spots such as Louie Mueller Barbecue, La Barbecue, Black’s Barbecue, and others. He also learned from the master, Aaron Franklin, spending time at his pits at Franklin’s and learning from Aaron’s Meat-Smoking Manifesto.

The main thing that drew us to 250 Texas BBQ was to get their beef ribs. Beef ribs are such an important part of Texas barbecue, but they can be difficult to find in the DC area. 250 Texas BBQ’s beef ribs were tender, smoky and had a great salt and pepper bark, perhaps with some other spices added as well. Obviously, there was no sauce. These giant beef ribs are just so fun to bite into–I would definitely order these every time. They passed our “good barbecue” test. The beef ribs come from Groffs Content Farm, a local Maryland farm that also has a stand at the market.

Beef ribs at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

As good as the beef ribs were, though, the brisket was even better. (unfortunately, we didn’t get a great picture) They had GREAT fat, and that alone brought tons of flavor, but the bark was also excellent. Plus, the leftover brisket tasted just as good next the day when we used it for sandwiches.

Brisket at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

The thing I appreciate most about Fernando and Debby is their passion for making authentic Texas barbecue in the DC suburbs. It is well-worth a stop at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market. While you’re there, be sure to check out Town Center Market, one of my favorite spots for craft beer in the DC area. The best thing about Town Center Market; you can bring outside food. So grab your barbecue from 250 Texas BBQ, get yourself a cold beer and enjoy!

Paul eating barbecue at 250 Texas BBQ in Riverdale Park, Maryland

Best Bite
Paul: Beef rib
Marnay: Brisket

Address
250 Texas BBQ at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market: 4650 Queensbury Road, Riverdale Park, MD 20737
Closest Metro: Prince George’s Plaza

Mama Chang

As regulars at Q by Peter Chang, we eagerly anticipated the chef/restauranteur’s new spot, Mama Chang. This isn’t a strictly a Peter Chang restaurant, though. Mama Chang celebrates the women in the chef’s life – his daughter Lydia runs the front of the house as well as business development while his wife Lisa, is his pastry chef. In fact, Lisa was running the kitchen the day of our visit.

On a Sunday morning, we made our way from Silver Spring to Fairfax via public transit (doable) to see what Mama had to offer. I heard early reports on social media that the restaurant had been wildly popular, so we were not surprised to find a 20-30 minute wait when we arrived at 1pm. (It cleared out by the time we finished eating which you can see in the photo below.)

room

It’s a good idea to start your meal with dry-fried cauliflower, a take on Peter’s famous dry-fried eggplant. We actually found the cauliflower to be a little spicier than the dry-fried eggplant, and that is certainly no slouch on heat! The cauliflower was so green and fresh that for a moment I thought we were eating Romanesco, because of the color. But no, this is just fresher than your typical cauliflower.

cauliflower

The pan-fried noodles with vegetables were different than what we were expected – they are seriously fried to a crisp in the pan. In the picture below, you can see that some of the sections have been blackened. Once the noodles mix with the sauce, though, they suddenly reconstitute and become slippery yet toothsome. They go well with the bounty of fresh bok choy and carrots piled on top, which may be the secret star of this dish.

noodles

Everything we ate at Mama Chang was great, but the salt and pepper crispy lotus root sandwiches were truly a revelation. Lotus root gets stuffed with ground pork and fried until it is shatteringly crisp. The sweet flavor profile of the rich ground pork reminded us of the Dong Po pork belly at Masterpiece, in suburban Atlanta. All this is topped with chopped scallions and red onions for freshness.

Chang

The only thing we did not love was the red pepper fried chicken with sesame, and that was only because it was not as crispy as we imagined. That, though, is the smallest of quibbles.

Although it’s still new, Mama Chang has already become the place to go in Northern Virginia for authentic regional Chinese cooking. Our only question to you, dear reader, is: When are you going to go?

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Salt and Pepper Crispy Lotus Root Sandwich

Address
Mama Chang: 3251 Old Lee Highway, Suite 101 Fairfax, VA 22030
Closest Metro: Vienna

Best Donuts in the DMV

Similar to our Barbecue Tour of Texas and our Best Pizzarias in the DMV posts, this was a fun post to do research for. Who doesn’t like eating donuts?!? We tried four different donut shops and, while there were some we liked more than others, they were all delicious.

In this post, we do not plan on resolving the spelling question: “Donut” vs. “Doughnut”. I think “doughnut” sounds fancier (good) but perhaps more pretentious (bad). Only you can make the final call!

Diablo Doughnuts

Diablo Doughnuts, in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood, makes destination-worthy donuts. They make a limited number a day and when they run out, that’s it. Top picks include the Captain Chesapeake, a yeast-donut with a caramel glaze topped with Old Bay, it is pleasantly savory and not too sweet. A great change of pace from traditional donut flavors. The donuts at Diablo do tend to run oily, so eating one is usually enough for us. Did we mention they serve them in a reversed pizza box?

Diablo Doughnuts in Baltimore, Maryland

It was Mardi Gras season when we went so we picked up the visually appealing King Cake donut, complete with a tiny baby on top! The donut was fresh, sugary and delicious.

The crème brulee was a good donut, but I wouldn’t say it tasted that much like crème brulee. The first thing you notice is how HEAVY it is. That’s because it is absolutely packed with filling. The filling tastes more like vanilla pudding than crème brulee custard, but hey it’s a good donut that I would get again. It just doesn’t taste much like crème brulee.

Astro Doughnuts

The crème brulee donut at Astro Doughnuts, meanwhile, is what all donut shops aspire to. The sugar glaze on the outside shatters when you bite into, and the char is evident in each bite. There is a more modest amount of filling than Diablo and it really tastes like crème brulee custard.

Astro Doughnuts in Washington DC

The vanilla glazed tasted fresh, like an authentic glazed donut. We only got mild notes of vanilla but it was still excellent. While you are at Astro, consider picking up some top-notch fried chicken to go along with your donuts.

Vanilla glazed at Astro Doughnuts in Washington DC

Duck Donuts

The draw to Duck Donuts is the fact that the donuts are made-to-order. I am aware that it is a chain, but for the purposes of this discussion we will be talking about the location on Rockville Pike. And it definitely does draw a lot of people – the shop was packed as we left, at 5pm on a Saturday.

S'more donut at Duck Donuts in Rockville, Maryland

The donuts at Duck Donuts were smaller than any of the other places. They are also cake donuts, which I find unusual these days. Most fancy donuts shops make mainly yeast donuts. The flavors were also not quite as strong. For example, the S’more was good but lacking in chocolate/marshmallow flavor.

Duck Donuts in Rockville, Maryland

The donuts definitely get points for having toppings that are still melty from the heat but overall they just don’t quite match up to the others. If I’m in the mood for fresh, hot donuts with melty icing (which is often), Duck Donuts is where I’m going to go.

Sugar Shack

Sugar Shack is a local chain, based out of Richmond, Virginia. We chose to visit the Shaw location in DC. The texture of the donuts was somewhere between Diablo/Astro and Duck. Sugar Shack’s donuts were not nearly as cakey as Duck but also did not have that fresh taste like Diablo or Astro.

Sugar Shack in Shaw, DC

Our favorite thing about the S’mores donut were the chewy marshmallows in the center. It brought great texture, which was the theme for Sugar Shack’s donuts, texture and flavor in every bite.

We also had a chocolate frosted with sprinkles, where the top of the donut was completely covered with rainbow sprinkles. That sounds almost too simple, right? It was actually really good! I enjoyed the crunch with each bite, even if it was pretty messy.

So which is our favorite?

Astro takes the cake (donut). We like Astro and Diablo the best because their donuts taste the freshest. Astro is the clear winner, though, because the donuts are not as greasy and because the flavors really can’t be beat.

Places we visited
Diablo Doughnuts: 1035 Light St Baltimore, MD 21230
Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken: 1308 G St, NW Washington, DC 20004
Duck Donuts: 1327 Rockville Pike Rockville, MD 20852
Sugar Shack Donuts & Coffee: 1932 9th St, NW Washington, DC 20001

A Barbecue Tour of Texas

Marnay and I just had our “Babymoon” in the great state of Texas, specifically Austin and Houston. We were in El Paso last summer, but barbecue country West Texas is not.

Austin, Texas vacation

In preparation for our trip, I read a lot of articles and listened to a lot of podcasts about barbecue. I would like to thank Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly and J.C. Reid of the Houston Chronicle for giving me a crash course on Texas barbecue. I also don’t want to leave out Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook. If you are traveling to Houston any time soon, I definitely recommend the Barbecue State of Mind podcast from the Houston Chronicle.

And while I always enjoy Daniel Vaughn’s writing, his Texas Monthly’s Top 50 is the barbecue list that every single barbecue joint in Texas wants to be on. It is like the Bible of barbecue.

Below is a recap of the barbecue joints we visited on our trip. We won’t be ranking them in any particular order, because they were all amazing. Also, we consider all of them to be important building blocks in our Texas barbecue journey.

Micklethwait Craft Meats
Micklethwait, in East Austin, consists of a barbecue trailer, a giant outdoor smoker and a covered picnic area. The morning we went, it was in the 30s and windy. That would stop a lot of folks from going (resulting in a very short line) but it didn’t stop us! These were the meatiest pork ribs of the trip and they were our favorite item at Micklethwait. If you take a look at them, the smoke ring is insane. The brisket stood on its own, but was even better on Texas toast with pickles and onions.

Micklethwait Craft Meats barbecue plate in Austin, Texas

All of the joints we visited were friendly, but Micklethwait gets bonus points for being friendliest. And even though it was really cold on the day we went, it was a lot of fun eating the barbecue outside, picnic-style.

Micklethwait Craft Meats barbecue truck in Austin, Texas

Terry Black’s Barbecue
This was the best beef rib of the trip. It was gigantic and SO fatty, in a good way, but not too fatty either. You bet we each took pictures of ourselves trying to eat the whole thing. The flavor reminded us of pastrami. Terry Black’s brisket was top notch, superbly fatty and with a killer bark. The sausage was also quite good.

Marnay eating a giant beef rib at Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin, Texas

The atmosphere at Terry Black’s is a little touristy, likely owing to its location across the Colorado River, near downtown. That means doubling up with strangers at tables, but the staff is very helpful in organizing the restaurant and eating barbecue with strangers is fun.

Terry Black’s Barbecue in Austin, Texas

Kreuz Market
Kreuz, in Lockhart, was on our 3 hour drive between Austin and Houston, so of course we made a stop. The sausage was excellent, with a nice kick to it. However, we were a little disappointed by the beef rib as it was too dry for our liking. Kreuz’s shoulder clod, which is a leaner cut than brisket, did have a nice meaty “chew” to it.

Kreuz Market barbecue in Lockhart, Texas

The sausage, which Kreuz is famous for, was the best of the trip, with some serious heat. We had eaten Kreuz sausage at Hill Country in DC and, fortunately, the real deal tasted MUCH better. No surprise that it would taste better fresh versus shipped halfway across the country! If we went back I would get the pork chop, which is a rare sight in a barbecue restaurant. Alas, we did not see the famous pitmaster Roy Perez, who is a ringer for Elvis Presley.

Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas

Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ
I can think of few better combinations than barbecue and tacos. It is likely the future of Texas barbecue and has always been important in the San Antonio area, where pitmaster Miguel Vidal grew up. Valentina’s is a food truck in a parking lot in suburban South Austin. It was originally an unincorporated area and was very recently annexed by the City. Behind the truck is a wonderful partially enclosed dining area with picnic tables, TVs and lot of sports memorabilia. You can tell that this is a great place to watch the big game.

Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ in Austin, Texas

The menu is separated between “Tex” and “Mex”. Anything on the “Mex” side of the menu gets served in Valentina’s incredible housemade flour tortillas. The smoked brisket taco was unreal – we got two! The brisket itself is perfect, but then it is topped with sea salt lime guacamole and tomato serrano salsa. We LOVED the guac! The smoked carnitas tacos, made from Kurobuta (Berkshire) pork, had a sweet taste from the super high-quality meat and were topped with caramelized onions, cilantro and a tomatillo habanero salsa for heat.

Lunch at Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ in Austin, Texas

We did not get a chance to try it, but Valentina’s opens at 7:30am for breakfast and it looks like it would be fantastic. In fact, you could probably do a barbecue tour of Austin starting out with breakfast at Valentina’s. Maybe an idea for us in the future??

Tejas Chocolate
Our favorite all-around barbecue joint of the trip, as well as the best brisket. They open at 11am and despite the fact that we arrived at 11:10am on Thursday, the line was well out the door. It is an indisputable fact of life that fatty brisket is better than lean brisket. That being said, the brisket at Tejas Chocolate managed to be the best EVEN THOUGH it was not the fattiest. That feat can be attributed to the cooking technique and to the well-seasoned bark. Similarly, the pork ribs were not as fatty as some other places but were still a cut above the rest. Tejas Chocolate also was the only barbecue joint we visited on the trip that had pork belly and boy, was it tasty. It was great on its own but even better with the famous mole barbecue sauce, aka “the most expensive barbecue sauce in the world.”

Tejas Chocolate in Houston, Texas

The crazy thing about Tejas Chocolate is that, as the name suggests, they started out making bean-to-bar chocolate. Their revenue wasn’t as good as they hoped and they realized that they needed to try something different. After a few years of experimenting at home making barbecue, they started serving it at the shop and almost IMMEDIATELY landed in the top 10 of the Texas Monthly Top 50. What a story!

Lunch at Tejas Chocolate in Houston, texas

I bought a T-shirt at each barbecue joint and chef Greg at Tejas noticed my Valentina’s shirt when I went to pick up our food. “Great food and great people,” he said.

We couldn’t agree more.

Paul eating barbecue at Tejas Chocolate in Houston, Texas

Best Bite of the trip
Paul: a tie between the Brisket at Tejas Chocolate and Beef Rib at Terry Black’s
Marnay: brisket at Tejas Chocolate

Places we visited
Micklethwait Craft Meats: 1309 Rosewood Ave Austin, TX 78702
Terry Black’s Barbecue: 1003 Barton Springs Rd Austin, TX 78704
Kreuz Market: 619 N Colorado St Lockhart, TX 78644
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ: 11500 Manchaca Rd Austin, TX 78745
Tejas Chocolate + Barbecue: 200 N Elm St Tomball, TX 77375

A Guide to Mocktails

As you may have seen in our Instagram post from our recent trip to Austin and Houston, we are expecting!

Marnay and Paul are expecting a baby boy

Yes, Marnay is pregnant and baby boy Meyer will be making his arrival in July 2019. As a result of this, we have gotten quite good at ordering mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails) at bars and restaurants. For the record, I am also not drinking during the pregnancy. I figure if Marnay can do it, so can I. If you are also expecting, don’t drink, or just want to give drinking a break, here are some tips we picked up along the way:

Ask Your Server
If you don’t see anything you like on the menu, just ask your server if the bartender can make something special for you. We did exactly this at Himitsu and they came up with a drink simply called “Orange-Ginger,” a very well-balanced mocktail.

Orange-Ginger cocktail at Himitsu in Washington DC

Consider Agua Frescas
Tacos, Tortas, Tequila (TTT) in Silver Spring makes great margaritas. (I mean, it has tequila in the name). But now that we’re not drinking, it was time to discover agua frescas, non-alcoholic sodas made from fruit, spices and nuts. At TTT, Marnay’s favorite agua fresca is the Jamaica and I am a fan of the Horchata.

Jamaica and Horchata agua fresca's at Tacos, Tortas, Tequila (TTT) in Silver Spring, Maryland

Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
When eating Indian street food at Chai Pani in Decatur, Georgia we looked for a non-alcoholic drink that would complement the food. We ordered a Lime Ricky and a drink called a Salt Lassi, which was purely savory. One of the most unique beverages I’ve ever had. It was a lot to handle on its own but it complemented the food very well.

Salt Lassi cocktail at Chai Pani in Decatur, Georgia

You Don’t Need to Avoid Bars
Even though we aren’t drinking, we do not need to avoid the fun and energy of sitting at a bar. At Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, we had the best mocktail of our lives. The bartender asked us what we wanted and Marnay said “something refreshing with cucumber.” The bartender put a lot of effort into making a drink with cucumber, lime, mint and sparkling water. It’s no surprise that Anvil was recently named a 2019 Semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation Award.

Cucumber mocktails at Anvil Bar and Refuge in Houston, Texas

Topo Chico
We love Topo Chico! It is our go-to sparkling water and while we can find it at Whole Foods in the DC area, it was EVERYWHERE is Texas. During our recent trip to Houston and Austin, we had Topo Chico at least once per day, usually twice. The source is from a spring in Monterrey, Mexico and it just feels exotic, like a fine wine. It is something fun to drink. We also enjoy drinking it for “happy hour” at home before we cook dinner.

Topo Chico in Austin, Texas

We honestly have not missed alcohol during these last five months. It makes it easier not drinking when you can still have fun with cool non-alcoholic drinks. It’s helping us to became more well-rounded in our knowledge of food and drink which, frankly, is exciting! We hope this guide helps you on your journey!

Himitsu

Himitsu has been open for almost 3 years, but the fact that it did not accept reservations gave us pause every time we considered going. The restaurant is tiny and we never felt like standing in line for hours. However, they finally started taking reservations a few months ago. With a place as small as Himitsu, though, actually getting a reservation isn’t easy. We were fortunate enough to snag a reservation on a Tuesday night, the week of Valentine’s Day.

Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

We told our server up front that we were not drinking alcohol and she accommodated us with a non-alcoholic cocktail simply called “Orange-Ginger.” A frequent concern about mocktails is that they often skew sweet, but this one had a nice kick from the ginger which balanced the orange’s natural sweetness.

Orange Ginger cocktails at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

We started out with the “French Onion Dip” with chives and ranch powder, which is meant to evoke Lays’ French Onion Dip. Believe it or not, I have made it 32 years without eating French onion dip, so the flavors were new to me! But if all French onion dip tastes like Himitsu’s, I certainly will not be going another 32 years before eating it again. The best part of the dish was the deep, narrow bowl of seasonal veggies, all you could see were the green tops which made it feel like reaching into a garden and not knowing which veggie you were going to get.

French Onion Dip appetizer at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

Vegetarians take note – you can eat well at Himitsu. In fact, three of our four dishes were vegetarian. Marnay thought that the vegan Nasu Dengaku, thin slices of grilled eggplant in a Szechuan black bean paste with pickled red onions, tasted more like pork belly than a vegetable. The eggplant tasted like so many different amazing textures and flavors I couldn’t decide what it reminded me of. Whatever it was, it was thrilling—and very spicy.

Vegan Nasu Dengaku eggplant at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

The piece de resistance, as our server put it (to our table to and to all the tables surrounding us), is the kaarage fried chicken in a gochujang glaze. It is served with hot housemade buttermilk biscuits that easily break in half, Japanese mayo and pickles. Those easy-to-break biscuits come in handy for making sandwiches, which is the way the chef intends that you eat it. As Marnay put it, this may have been one of her favorite “first-bites” in a long time. It was so crunchy and flavorful, with a little bit of heat from the gochujang. The thing that puts it over the top, though, is the salt sprinkled on top of the biscuits.

Kaarage Fried Chicken with buttermilk biscuits at Himitsu restaurant in Petworth, DC

The service at Himitsu is relaxed and professional, if perhaps a bit scripted. That being said, the restaurant is so small and cozy every meal feels like a special occasion. There is no doubt that we will be back soon.

Best Bite
Paul: Eggplant in Szechuan black bean sauce
Marnay: Kaarage Fried Chicken

Address
Himitsu: 828 Upshur St, NW Washington, DC 20011
Closest Metro: Georgia Avenue – Petworth

A Pizza Tour of New York

Inspired by the three part podcast on the history of pizza, we made a pilgrimage to New York to sample as many different pizzas slices as possible. With so much possible pizza to eat, we fortunately were not alone. We were joined by Marnay’s sister, Cheray, and her boyfriend, Chris. From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, we ate at five different pizzerias. Here is our take, presented in chronological order.

Corner Slice
Corner Slice had our favorite crust out of the five. It tasted like freshly made focaccia, but it had a sourdough tang to it. Although the crust was thick, it was by no means doughy. Somehow they made a thick Grandma slice that was neither too thick nor too thin. It had good cheese coverage and the large chunks of tomatoes tasted fantastic. Corner Slice was the unanimous favorite. In fact, Marnay said that it may have been the best pizza she had ever had.

Corner Slice pizza from our New York Pizza tour

Scarr’s
This was thinnest slice of our tour. It was so thin that it was practically a bar slice, although without the crack crust. A lesser slice that was this thin would have fallen apart under the weight of the sauce and cheese. Scarr’s slice admirably kept its crispness intact. The margherita may have been even better than its plain cheese slice. Scarr’s does gets a negative point though for having a rude pizzaiolo.

Scarr's pizza slice from our New York Pizza tour

Williamsburg Pizza
We visited the Lower East Side location of Williamsburg Pizza, totally unplanned. We just happened to walk by it. The grandma slice tasted exactly like garlic bread – it was oily and super garlicky, but with a crispy crust instead of that loaf of bread style. The plain slice had an airy crust and a flavorful sauce, with a good sauce-to-cheese ratio.

Williamsburg pizza slice from our New York Pizza tour

My Pie Pizzeria Romana
This was another square slice, but not nearly as thick as Corner Slice. It was very crispy and had more sauce then cheese, which is something that can be good when done right. Cheray and Chris got meatball pizza but unfortunately, the proportions were off. These were the least visually appealing slices, but the simple margherita was very tasty. Bonus points for having extremely friendly staff and for opening at 10am on a Sunday so we could pack in as much as possible before our train back to DC.

My Pie Pizzeria Romana pizza slice from our New York Pizza tour

Sofia Pizza Shoppe
The slices at Sofia tasted most similar to a “traditional” deck oven pizza slice. As with all five places we went, the slices were elevated by the crispy crust. There was a little more cheese than either Williamsburg or Scarr’s, but what draws it back into the realm of elite pizzerias is the marvelously crispy crust.

Sofia Pizza Shoppe pizza slice from our New York Pizza tour

Too often, at your run-of-the-mill strip mall deck oven pizzeria, the crust is an afterthought. Usually the crust is undercooked and practically soft. This lack of a crispy crust compounds itself when you load the crust with sauce and cheese.Now, I’m not saying that these types of deck oven pizzerias are bad – we grew up on them. In fact, I could go for one right now. But the way to differentiate a good pizza from a great pizza is in the crust. Every pizzeria we went to on our pizza tour of New York had incredible crust.

Marnay and her sister Cheray from our New York Pizza tour

PS: If you want to make great pizza at home, you need to check out Pizza Camp from Joe Beddia. We swear by this book for making homemade pizza.

Best Bite:
Paul and Marnay: Corner Slice

Places we went:
Corner Slice – 600 11th Avenue New York, NY 10036
Scarr’s – 22 Orchard Street New York, NY 10002
Williamsburg Pizza – 277 Broome Street New York, NY 10002
My Pie Pizzeria Romana – 690 Lexington Avenue New York, NY 10022
Sofia Pizza Shoppe – 989 1st Avenue New York, NY 10022

La Piquette

After years of not being overly interested by French cuisine, we have been on a French kick lately. In fact, it’s a safe bet to expect more reviews of French restaurants over the next few months. We started things off with brunch with friends Brenna and Kyle at La Piquette, in DC’s Cathedral Heights neighborhood.

Marnay, Paul, Kyle and Brenna eating brunch at La Piquette in Washington DC

We usually are hesitant to write a full review based on brunch-alone, mainly because the brunch menus at restaurants tend to be unrepresentative of the dinner menus. But the good thing about La Piquette is that the brunch, lunch and dinner menus are all very similar.

At La Piquette’s brunch, you have the option of ordering 3 course for $30—a really good deal. But it also seemed like a lot of food, so all four of us opted to order a la carte. My steak tartare was very finely minced, bound by egg yolk and shot through with copious amounts of horseradish. It was served a bit colder than I would like, however. It was a little like serving wine too cold – you can’t make out all of the flavors.

French

Meanwhile, Marnay cleaned the plate of her mushroom risotto, made with shitake, hen of the woods and royal trumpet mushrooms. We appreciated that La Piquette used some out-of-the-ordinary types of mushrooms and didn’t skimp, either.

French

Kyle went the more traditional brunch route, ordering piperade, a traditional Basque dish (really a sauce more than a dish). Piperade is a red pepper, tomato and onion-based sauce. While the Basque region tends to be associated more with Spain, it’s important to remember that it also includes portions of southwestern France. His piperade was topped with French ham, two sunny side up eggs and frites.

We expected to all be full after this, but the entrees were just so good we didn’t want to skip dessert. We all shared the gateau a la’ orange–a spongy, sweet cake, plus a chocolate mousse. The gateau came with crème Anglaise, meant for pouring over the cake. I’ll admit, the sauce was so good I also ate it on its own!

Gateau a la’ orange for dessert at La Piquette in Washington DC

A lot of ink has been spilled over what constitutes a “neighborhood restaurant.” At its heart, I think it just means a place where you can go frequently (maybe 2-3 times a month). I believe that La Piquette fits the bill: it’s small, cozy, and moderately-priced with respectful but not overly formal service. If we lived in Cathedral Heights, I could see us going to La Piquette multiple times a month, for sure. For classic French cuisine in a casual setting, La Piquette is the place to go.

bar

Best Bite
Paul: Steak tartare with frites
Marnay: Mushroom risotto

Address
La Piquette: 3714 Macomb Street, NW Washington, DC 20016
Closest Metro: Cleveland Park

Rye Street Tavern

I work in downtown Baltimore and wanted to have a fun daytime adventure before the end of 2018. So, before the holidays, Marnay met me for lunch at Andrew Carmellini’s Rye Street Tavern, in the Port Covington section of south Baltimore.

The restaurant, for now, is nearly all alone in Port Covington. The only exceptions are a few industrial buildings, an UnderArmour office and the restaurant’s sibling distillery, Sagamore Spirits. Down the line, though, this will be a large mixed-used area that will grow around the restaurant. As of now it is a destination spot with an incredible waterfront location. On nice days (such as the day we dined), the windows are opened for a cooling breeze.

Paul and Marnay Meyer standing outside Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

Since the restaurant is isolated from residential areas, we were surprised to find it crowded on a workday. We went to the bar but had trouble finding two seats next to each other. We briefly had a feeling of helplessness until the wonderful bartender saw our plight and came out from behind the bar. She was able to play bar-patron Tetris and figured out a way for Marnay and I to sit next to each other. During the whole meal, in fact, she really went above and beyond!

The free cornbread to start the meal was a bit dry (but, hey, also free) but after that just about everything was fantastic. I opted for the $25 three-course prix-fixe, a good deal. The ember-roasted beets with sheep’s milk yogurt and candied hazelnuts tasted smoky like barbecue. Plus, the big chunks of sweet beets were so juicy they reminded me of watermelon, but with the texture of a root vegetable. The yogurt and the hazelnuts made it feel like a complete dish. Above all, the presentation was stunning.

Ember-roasted beets with sheep's milk yogurt and candied hazelnuts at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

Marnay ordered the Southern-style fried chicken, Rye Street’s Tavern’s signature dish. It was perfectly seasoned, and we especially liked the housemade hot sauce, which the bartender encouraged us to use. It really only needed a little bit because it was well-seasoned already. The only disappointment was the honey-butter biscuit, which tasted like it had been drenched in melted butter.

Southern-style fried chicken with honey-butter biscuits at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

I came in with low expectations for the rock shrimp tacos—after all Rye Street Tavern is a modern-American restaurant. But the battered and fried shrimp topped with pickled jalapenos and a fiery guajillo chile paste and young cilantro were quite good. I would even consider getting them again!

Rock shrimp tacos at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

My prix fixe came with dessert, so we shared a slice of vanilla buttermilk pie. It was a tasty end to the meal. Throughout everything, our bartender did a fantastic job of taking care of all, as while still serving the other bar patrons. If I had gotten her name, I would have passed along a good word to the manager on the way out. On a nice day, it’s hard to top Rye Street Tavern’s waterfront setting as a place to grab a bite in Baltimore. I can definitely see us going back in the Spring when the weather is warmer.

Slice of vanilla buttermilk pie at Rye Street Tavern in Port Covington, Baltimore, Maryland

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Ember roasted beets

Address
Rye Street Tavern: 13 Rye Street Baltimore, MD 21230

2018 Year in Review

2018 was a year of traveling. I felt like we were Eater roving food critic Bill Addison, we were in so many different places. It definitely shows in our 2018 blog posts – there are more posts from outside the DC-area than there are posts within the DC-area. Marnay and I asked each other questions about our favorites of 2018, here are our responses:

What was your favorite meal of 2018?

Paul – My favorite meal was the Taste of Zahav prix fixe menu – a lot of incredible food for an absolute steal of a price, $48 per person. This may be one of the best dining deals in the country.

Marnay – My favorite was lunch at Al Ameer, the Lebanese palace in Dearborn, Michigan. We headed there as soon as our plane landed in Detroit and while we ate way too much food, I still can’t stop thinking about the stuffed lamb.

Stuffed lamb at Al Ameer, Lebanese food in Dearborn, Michigan

What was your favorite bar of 2018?

Paul – Maxwell, the wine bar in Shaw, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, is a wine-lover’s dream. They don’t take themselves too seriously, either. It is equally great for wine-geeks as it is for casual drinkers. It’s also the perfect place to go if you want to learn more about wine.

Marnay – Brenner Pass, Richmond. I really enjoyed the bar at this modern Alpine restaurant in Scotts Addition. We shared a bottle of wine with dessert – a perfect combination! The vibe was cozy, despite the fact that the place was packed and our bartender was incredibly knowledgeable.

Bar at Brenner Pass in Richmond, Virginia

Which restaurant do you want to visit again in 2018?

Paul – Commander’s Palace, in New Orleans. It made for an incredible, old school Creole experience.

Marnay – We loved eating breakfast every morning at Time Market when we were staying in Tucson. Closer to home, we are definitely going to back to All Purpose Shaw and Kuya Ja’s (for some lechon belly) ASAP.

Commander’s Palace, old school Creole in New Orleans, Louisiana

What was your favorite food/restaurant-related experience?

Paul – I would consider going outside of one’s comfort zone as a food-related experience. So in that case, my favorite experience was our meals in El Paso. That area feels closer to Mexico than the U.S.

Marnay – We went to “Mexico in a Bottle” at the Mexican Cultural Institute, the old Mexican Embassy on 16th Street. For a modest fee, we got to sip on unlimited mezcal, meet local chefs and eat some delicious Mexican food. It was a dream come true!

Lunch in El Paso, Texas

Which restaurant surprised you the most?

Paul – Chai Pani in Decatur, GA, just outside of Atlanta. I had no idea how much I enjoyed Indian street food until we ate there.

Marnay – Momofuku CCDC. We had not been there in years, mainly because we were not super impressed the first time we went. But the menu has been totally revamped and that bronzed whole roasted chicken was delicious – and enough to feed an entire family!

Bronzed whole roasted chicken at Momofuku CCDC in Washington DC

What was your favorite meal in Silver Spring?

Paul – The medium-rare ribeye from Urban Butcher hit the spot for me. And it is consistent.

Marnay – The calzones at Pacci’s are insanely good right now. For years, we stuck to ordering Neopolitan pizzas and a salad. This year, inspired by our trip to Milan, we started ordering calzones at Pacci’s and we haven’t looked back.

Calzone and pizza at Pacci's in Silver Spring, Maryland

What was your favorite meal outside of the DC-area?

Paul – There were so many meals outside of the DC area, but my favorite all-around meal was at H&H Car Wash in El Paso.

Marnay – Mine was dinner at Park Place Cafe in Merchantville, NJ. We were treated like family and the sauce on our pasta was something I will never forget. So incredibly simple yet so good.

Eating breakfast at H&H Car Wash in El Paso, Texas

What is your favorite recipe to make at home?

Paul – Grilled lamb chops with cucumber salad. Tender, crusty, fatty, salt and cooling. Mmmmmm.

Marnay – I’m a big fan of cooking weekend at breakfast at home. Since we are not home on the weekends very often, it’s a special treat. One of our go-to’s is making homemade biscuits and topping them with a fried egg and side of bacon. We use Alton Brown’s biscuit recipe. Who wants to go out for brunch, anyway??

Paul and Marnay in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Here’s a list of our favorites. Go ahead and give them a try!

Zahav: 237 St. James Pl. Philadelphia, PA 19106
Al Ameer: 27346 Ford Rd Dearborn Heights, MI 48127
Maxwell: 1336 9th St, NW Washington, DC 20001
Brenner Pass: 3200 Rockbridge St #100 Richmond, VA 23230
Commander’s Palace: 1403 Washington Ave New Orleans, LA 70130
Time Market: 444 E. University Blvd Tucson, AZ 85705
All Purpose Shaw: 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly: 5268-H Nicholson Ln Rockville, MD 20895
Chai Pani: 406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave Decatur, GA 30030
Momofuku CCDC: 1090 I St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Urban Butcher: 8226 Georgia Ave Silver Spring, MD 20910
Pacci’s: 8113 Georgia Ave Silver Spring, MD 20910