Royal Nepal

Last Saturday, Marnay and I dined at Royal Nepal, located in the Del Ray section of Alexandria. Since Alexandria is a bit of a trip for us, we spent the afternoon walking around the Old Town Alexandria waterfront and then headed to dinner. The restaurant was crowded when we arrived at 7:30pm and there was a 15 minute wait for a table. Once inside, we encountered a dining experienced not typically associated with “cheap eats” restaurants.

outside

The staff set the tone as soon as we ordered drinks. I got a well-thought out cocktail with bourbon, walnut liquor, housemade cinnamon syrup and Angostura bitters. It even had a slow melting ice cube, which I think is practically a necessity these days. Meanwhile, when Marnay ordered her glass of California Pinot Noir, the sommelier presented the bottle to her and poured her a taste. This is even though she had only ordered a glass, not the whole bottle. You don’t see touches like that at even the most fine-dining of restaurants.

Now, this is a true Nepalese restaurant. It’s not a combination Indian/Nepalese restaurant. To give an indication of its authenticity, Royal Nepal places a piece of paper on each table describing the health benefits of eating yak.

The meal starts out with a gratis bread basket, sel roti, containing a cake doughnut-like object, alongside pickled vegetables that will have you breathing fire. Marnay marveled at the combination of the slightly sweet and cakey bread with the red-hot pickled vegetables.

bread

After that gratis bread, we ordered goat momo in a light tomato sauce. It seems like almost every culture has its version of dumplings, a momo is Nepal’s take. Goat is an acquired taste, but Marnay acquired it quickly and really enjoyed the dumplings! She was particularly impressed with how the dough held its soft texture even after being pan-fried.

We also ordered Aloo Sadheko, or steamed potatoes marinated with green chiles and spices. We have had potato dishes many times at Indian/Nepalese restaurants, and they are typically huge chunks of overcooked, dried out tubers. That is not the case at Royal Nepal, where small, uniform pieces of potato have a velvety texture and are slicked with chile oil along with balsamic vinegar for swiping.

dumplings

The showstopper was the lamb chops, sourced from local farms in Pennsylvania and Virginia and cooked to a perfect medium and then topped with mint chutney. Every single bite was tender, even the fatty parts. The chops are served alongside extremely rich duck fat fried rice, with pieces of pulled duck thrown into the mix. Blistered eggplant and sliced vegetables provide some welcome lightness to contrast all that meat. These may have been some of the best lamb chops we have ever had, and at $25 for a dish that can easily be shared among two people, it’s a steal.

lamb

If you want authentic Nepalese food with fining dining touches and careful sourcing, Royal Nepal in Alexandria is the place to go. It’s a little out of the way for us, but it’s a place we will definitely go back to.

Best Bite
Paul: Lamb Chops
Marnay: Sel roti with marinated vegetables

Address
Royal Nepal: 3807 Mt Vernon Avenue Alexandria, VA 22305
Closest Metro: Braddock Road

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Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly

Kuya Ja’s is a Filipino counter service joint located in the White Flint area. The restaurant, which started out as a pop-up at the chef’s sister’s pastry shop, specializes in Filipino pork belly. It’s been on our radar since it was a pop-up, but once they got a permanent spot we knew we needed to head to Rockville and try it out.

Outside Kuya Ja’s restaurant in Rockville, MD

Kuya Ja’s had only been open two weeks when we visited. It’s located about 0.5 miles from the White Flint metro, inside a random and partially forgotten strip mall in an area otherwise teeming with new residential high-rises. We walked there from the metro but to give a sense of where it is: the entrance to the parking lot contains a grand sign for the White Flint Mall, which is currently a pile of rubble and has been for three years.

The place opens at 5pm and when we arrived at 4:58pm there were already people queuing outside. A word of advice: this restaurant is extremely popular and also tiny, so try to go during off hours. We had a few questions when it was our turn to order at the counter, but the staff was extremely friendly and patient.

Inside Kuya Ja’s restaurant in Rockville, MD

We ordered ½ pound of lechon belly and a crispy adobo chicken sandwich. As a bit of background, lechon belly is basically Filipino porchetta. The chef, whose nickname is Ja, hails from the island of Cebu which, according to the restaurant’s website, has the best lechon belly in the world.

The first thing you’ll notice about the lechon belly is that the skin is so thin and shiny from glaze it looks like glass. In fact, both Marnay and I were legitimately concerned that when we bit into it, it would be like biting into glass. Thankfully, our concerns were misplaced. Here’s another thing: Very often, the skin is the best part of meat since it gets the most flavoring, while the actual meat is a letdown. Let me tell you, that is NOT the case as Kuya Ja’s. Here, the skin is crispy and redolent of all types of umami flavors. Meanwhile, the meat is insanely tender and unctuous to the extreme. The meat is made even better by two condiments: one is a thick vinaigrette that taste a bit like soy while the other is a Filipino vinegar. Our favorite was the vinaigrette because of its balanced flavor.

Kuya Ja’s dinner: lechon belly and crispy adobo chicken sandwich

The crispy chicken, with an adobo glaze and crisp lettuce on a soft hamburger bun, is also a winner. The abobo glaze, with its soy sauce undertones, turns this from a good chicken sandwich to a great one. It doesn’t hit you over the head but it is lurking in the background of every bite.

The next day we came back around 8pm. While it was packed, we miraculously got a table just before our food came out. It was a good thing, since it was raining and therefore we were either getting a table or eating standing up. (Unlike most people who come here, we do not have cars). They did not have the ½ pound of lechon belly available, but that ended up being a good thing. Instead, the staff steered us towards the lechon belly combo, which comes with white rice and atsara, or pickled ginger papaya salad. As Marnay noted, the addition of the rice made it feel like more of a meal, with the added benefit of using the rice to scoop up the sauces.

Kuya Ja’s dinner: lechon belly combo with Ube Brazo for dessert

Kuya Ja’s also serves Filipino pastries from the chef’s sisters bakery, many of which contain ube halaya, a sweet paste made from purple yams. I would compare it to how red bean paste is used in Chinese and Japanese desserts. We tried the Ube Brazo, which tasted like a delightful cross between bread pudding and pound cake.

The fact that we liked Kuya Ja’s enough to go back two days in a row should tell you how we feel about this place. The incredible food, warm service and wallet-friendly prices are sure to keep us coming back again and again.

Best Bite
Paul: Lechon belly
Marnay: Crispy chicken

Address
Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly: 5268-H Nicholson Lane Rockville, MD 20895
Closest Metro: White Flint

Cake for Dessert

As you are aware if you are a fan of the blog, Marnay and I enjoy eating out. But since we can’t eat out all the time, we follow a lot of chefs, restaurants and bloggers on social media. That way, we can stay up to date with what’s going on in the food scene.

One unmistakeable trend that I’ve seen recently is the rise of cake. Huge cakes that beget huge slices. I had never seen this much cake being served in restaurants. The question: Why? Why now?

Huge cake slices on Paul's instagram feed

I’ve seen huge cakes all over my Instagram lately. In fact, Marnay and I went to the café at Maketto and had a ginormous piece of (very tasty) carrot-walnut cake. We also were recently at Elle on a weekday morning and saw the prettiest cake we had ever seen in their pastry case. A perfectly smooth, symmetrical cake covered with purple and white icing and simply a few blackberries on top. It looked like cake perfection.

Elle blackberry cake in DC

I think that nostalgia is a factor in the great cake revival of 2018. Everyone has memories of eating birthday cake, or baking a cake with their parents. More regionally, you may have memories of Jersey diners and their display cases of innumerable types of cakes.

Pete Wells recently wrote a brilliant article in the New York Times about the proliferation of ice cream sundaes on dessert menus in New York, often as the only dessert. Restaurants claim that this is for nostalgia reasons, but Pete Wells astutely points out that the real reason is likely because anyone can make ice cream and this means that restaurants do not have to hire a pastry chef.

Cakes are also relatively straightforward restaurant desserts. Once the cake is made, it does not take much effort to slice it into individual portions. However, a lot of work goes into making a well-executed cake. How do you find the perfect balance between cake and icing? What is the right flavor combination? How can you blow people away?

I think that cakes have been undervalued for too long. Perhaps because people have eaten it at every birthday party since they were a child, and had so many bland, dried-out examples, that cake gets overlooked. It takes a lot of talent and effort to make these cakes. They can be visually stunning and taste great at the same time.

This is a trend that I hope continues…cakes are not just for birthdays anymore!

New Orleans Recap: Part 2

We divided our New Orleans Recap into two posts. Click here to read Part 1 and continue reading to learn about the rest of our adventure!

Saturday

We woke up and grabbed a quick espresso at Merchant and then went on a very calm BlueBike ride through the western edge of the French Quarter and the Marigny to St. Roch Market, in the St. Roch neighborhood. St Roch (pronounced “Rock”) Market is amazing! It’s like a more relaxed (and slightly smaller) version of Union Market in DC. It has so many diverse food stalls, from local seafood to coffee to Vietnamese to Haitian.

St. Roch Market in New Orleans

I got a Roch Fizz from Coast Roast, which was espresso, vanilla syrup and soda water. It tasted like a root beer float without the ice cream! Marnay got a cold brew, great on this warm day. Both of us got our breakfast from the Daily Beet, a juice and breakfast food stand. We kept it light with avocado toast and an egg plate, since we still had a lot of eating to do.

St. Roch Market brunch at the Daily Beet in New Orleans

After eating, we walked through the neighborhood towards the banks of the mighty Mississippi. Finally! Somehow we had not seen the river since we arrived. We stumbled upon a food festival in a HUGE industrial building along the Mississippi that had a roof but no walls. The most welcome sight was a huge pot of crawfish being boiled (it was crawfish season), but we unfortunately were full and still had a lot of eating left to do.

We hit up the French Quarter, which was mobbed with tourists, as expected. We did get to watch the March for Our Lives protestors head down Decatur Street. Even though we were far from DC, it was nice to feel like we were participating.

New Orleans March for Our Lives in 2018

We grabbed BlueBikes by our Airbnb and biked through downtown and Treme and then finally, the Lafitte Greenway. Our destination was Parkway Bakery & Tavern, one of New Orleans’ most famous po’ boy joints. Our best bite: the crispy shrimp po’ boy, so fresh and covered in Cajun spices. Mmm! Afterwards, we sat on the banks of Bayou St. John, which we had biked along the day before. The weather was beautiful the whole time we were in New Orleans, and it was nice to see people having picnics along the water.

Parkway Bakery & Tavern crispy shrimp po’ boy in New Orleans

Dinner that night was at La Petite Grocery, the 2016 James Beard Foundation Award-winner for Best Chef South. We started the night with cocktails and blue crab beignets. Cleverly, the kitchen sprinkled the beignets with flaky sea salt in place of powdered sugar. For our entrees, we kept up with our theme of eating local ingredients and shared Gulf cobia with crispy skin and paneed rabbit, which tasted like rabbit schnitzel. We even got crème brulee with Louisiana sugar!

La Petite Grocery blue crab beignets in New Orleans

Our dinner was earlier than the night before, so we had time to do something else. The only question was: What to do? I had my mind set on going to a dive bar, so after a little online search we took a Lyft to Saturn Bar, in the Bywater neighborhood. Saturn Bar was ridiculously divey, but fun! It was full of mostly hipster-types but also a few crusty old men. Marnay and I both had a beer and shot and then called it a night.

Sunday

Sunday was unfortunately our last day in New Orleans, and our flight home was at 3:30 that afternoon. We woke up early so that we could make the most out of the morning and early afternoon. Since we liked it so much, we did a repeat of Saturday morning: Espresso at Merchant and a BlueBike Ride to St Roch Market. Marnay had an egg and biscuit platter from Fete Au Fete and I had an incredible Louisiana Crab Cake with Corn-Charred Cream from Elysian Seafood – so good!

roch breakfast 2

We took advantage of another beautiful day by walking around and then biked back to the Airbnb so we could pack and head to the airport. New Orleans is an incredible place to visit. I do not think we will ever forget our trip. I can’t believe it has taken us this long to get there!

Marnay and Paul in New Orleans, Louisiana

Favorite Place We Went
Paul: Lafitte Greenway
Marnay: St Roch Market

Favorite Bite
Paul: Louisiana white shrimp and tasso ham henican – Commander’s Palace
Marnay: Crème brulee with Louisiana sugar – La Petite Grocery

Favorite Drink
Paul: Bonded Sazerac – Cure
Marnay: Bandol Rose – Bacchanal

Insider Tip
Paul: RTA three-day unlimited pass
Marnay: You can experience the food and culture of New Orleans without needing to spend much time in the touristy areas.

New Orleans Recap: Part 1

Marnay and I just got back from an incredible Spring trip to New Orleans. It has been so cold here in the DC area (we had a snow day the day before we left!) so it was nice to escape to the sun and warmth. This wasn’t a relaxing by the pool vacation, though; this was a foodie exploration.

We stayed in an Airbnb in a high rise right downtown. I would call it the business and hotel district, just outside the French Quarter and the Warehouse District. That meant that it was centrally located, with easy access to public transportation and bikeshare bikes, but not as hectic as other areas. This is a good tip if you plan on using public transit on vacation: Most cities’ public transit systems are designed to start downtown and radiate through the city. (A hub and spoke system) That means that you would get the most “bang-for-your-buck” and have the easiest time getting around if you stay downtown.

Thursday

We landed around 6:30 on Thursday and took a Lyft to our place. It was beautiful! We barely dropped our suitcases off before heading out on our first adventure. New Orleans public transit (buses and streetcars) have a three-day unlimited pass that you can purchase on your phone. When you wanted to board, just show the driver your phone and you are golden. It makes using public transportation in an unfamiliar city so much easier. We took the 88 bus to Bacchanal, in the Bywater neighborhood, which a few days earlier had been named a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Wine Program.

Marnay and Paul at Bacchanal in New Orleans

At Bacchanal, every day feels like a back-yard party. First, you enter through the wine store, a wooden shack, where you can pick out a bottle of wine. Next, grab some wine glasses and head to an outdoor table to enjoy and watch live music on the stage. When you’re hungry, head over to the kitchen window and order from their selection of small plates. Grab a number and they will bring your food to you.

Marnay and I hung out at the standing room ledges, under a gnarled old tree and just to the right of the stage, drinking our bottle of rose from the Bandol region of France. Roses from Bandol are known for being heavy duty wines, earthy and almost like a red. It was a touch chilly for a late March night, so the Bandol rose was appropriate. To eat, we enjoyed radishes with whipped butter and crusty bread, head-on Gulf shrimp and praline pecan panna cotta. Amazingly, the kitchen was able to pace out our meal even though the place was so crowded.

New Orleans Bacchanal Bandol Rose wine with radishes and Gulf shrimp

The atmosphere was amazing. The back yard at Bacchanal really felt like a chill outdoor party. Even though it was crowded, we never felt overwhelmed and could have hung out there for hours. Alas, it was getting late and we needed to get some sleep for our first full day in New Orleans.

Friday

Good Morning New Orleans! We slept well and woke up ready to explore. The high-rise condo building we were staying in had an excellent coffee shop named Merchant on the ground floor. I really needed a pick-me-up, so I got a double espresso; this ended up being my daily New Orleans morning tradition for the rest of the trip. We took the 48 streetcar through Mid-City and up to City Park, which I would compare to Central Park in New York or Druid Hill Park in Baltimore. We were not only checking out the park for its natural beauty – we were in search of beignets. We found them at Morning Call, a New Orleans institution. It is a casual sit-down place, but they had no problem with us ordering only beignets.

The beignets were hot and fresh and there was sugar on the table so that you could dust just the right amount on top. Of course, I got a café au lait with that famous chicory coffee. It was a lot of work to put the powdered sugar on ourselves, but it was worth it!

Morning Call beignets in New Orleans

After eating, we slathered on sunscreen and picked up Blue Bikes (New Orleans’ bikeshare system) and biked on along Bayou St John to the beautiful Lafitte Greenway, which looked like a highway for bikes, it was so straight and flat. Our destination: Willie Mae’s, the legendary fried chicken spot. We went in knowing that the place would be jumping (there’s always a long line) so we did not mind when we had to wait outside for 40 minutes. Once we made it inside, we were starving. I will skip to the good part: the fried chicken was amazing, the best we had ever had. The secret was the spicy wet batter, which lingered under the skin. Even the white meat was tender and juicy, which I find is rare in fried chicken. Willie Mae’s was incredible!

Willie Mae’s fried chicken in New Orleans

After eating all that fried chicken, we took the streetcar home and took a nap. But when we woke up, we had plenty of time before our 8:30pm dinner reservation at Commander’s Palace. We walked over to Compere Lapin, located inside the boutique Old No. 77 Hotel in the Warehouse District. Besides being a name of the restaurant, Compere Lapin is also the name of a traditional Caribbean tale involving a mischievous rabbit. We only came for drinks, but they were two of the more visually stimulating drinks we have ever had: One is in a copper bunny and the other has a bunny stenciled on top!

Compere Lapin cocktail in a copper bunny and a bunny stenciled on top

We unexpectedly still had some time before dinner, so we took a Lyft to Cure, one of the best cocktail bars in the country. At Cure, we did “the Sazerac test”. Their bonded Sazerac is $20, while their regular Sazerac is $6. We ordered one of each and tried them side by side. The verdict: The $20 Sazerac is worth it! While the $6 is a steal, the bonded Sazerac had incredible depth of flavor.

Bonded Sazerac at Cure in New Orleans

Commander’s Palace is one of New Orleans’ oldest old school restaurants – it’s been open since the late 19th century. It’s also one of the few restaurants in the country that requires jackets for men. The chef continues to serve classic Creole food that pushes boundaries while celebrating the past. Our best bite was the Louisiana white shrimp and tasso ham henican with okra, pepper jelly and a Crystal hot sauce beurre blanc, one of their signature dishes. When we were finished, we used the crusty bread the scoop up the pepper jelly. Keeping with the Creole them, we also ordered the crawfish tail gnocchi, which came with a whole crawfish on top. We rounded things out with the Commander’s Bread Pudding, “The Queen of Creole Desserts.” Hoo boy, did it taste like whiskey!

Commander’s Palace in New Orleans

Note: We divided our New Orleans Recap into two posts. Click here to read Part 2!

Rock n Roll Half Marathon Weekend 2018

Last Saturday, I ran in the Rock n’ Roll DC Half Marathon, my 6th year in a row running this race and my 8th half marathon in total. While I was running through the streets of DC, Marnay and my family hustled all over town to cheer me on. All the running was worth it, since it meant that we could enjoy a fun weekend of eating and celebrating.

Friday

On Friday night, my parents and grandfather came to town and met Marnay and I at Pacci’s in Silver Spring for our traditional dinner. For the last five years, we have eaten at Pacci’s on the night before the big race. Pacci’s is our local Neapolitan pizzeria, and it’s home to some of our favorite pies in the DC area. Eating a La Verace pizza, with buffalo mozzarella, parmesan, olive oil and fresh basil is a great way to energize for a long yet exciting weekend. The other thing we can’t miss at Pacci’s is the prosciutto con melone, a nice mix of salty prosciutto wrapped around sweet melon.

Pacci’s Neopolitan pizzeria in Silver Spring, MD

Saturday

Rise and shine! We woke up at 4:30am in order to gather our gear and prepare for race day. I had a simple breakfast of Eggos and peanut butter, which I eat before every long run. I try to eat and drink the same things before each long run during the training period, to get my body accustomed to it. Since the metro doesn’t open until 7:00am, we ventured out into the cold and took the 70 bus to a Dunkin Donuts in Petworth to hang out and stay warm. Once the metro opened, we took the Green Line to the start along Constitution Avenue.

Meyer family ready for the 2018 DC Rock n Roll Half Marathon

Last year’s race was downright frigid, so I knew what type of cold weather I needed to wear for a half-marathon. This year’s race was not in the 20s at the start, more like the mid-30s. Despite the initial cold, the race was sunny and it eventually warmed up to the mid-40s. I’m not going to lie, the race was not easy, despite the fact that I’ve run it six times now. I still enjoyed it, though, and felt very accomplished when I crossed the finish line at RFK.

Paul Meyer running in the 2018 DC Rock n Roll Half Marathon

One of the major reasons that I run this race every year, of course, is for brunch afterwards! This year, we stepped things up by having it at All Purpose. Although technically All Purpose calls their weekend midday meal “Lunch”, which I appreciate. I am not big on the sweet, heavy dishes that proliferate most brunch menus.

All Purpose brunch in DC

When I first looked at the lunch menu, alllll I wanted was PIZZA. However, Marnay smartly pointed out that since we had pizza the night before, we should mix things up. Boy, am I glad we did! I was absolutely obsessed with All Purpose’s crispy eggplant and mozzarella sandwich. It all starts with the housemade bread, hearty and substantial but not too crispy. Then comes garlicky aioli, melted fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce and the crispiest eggplant cutlet ever.

We weren’t done, though. Oh no. We also got the Buona pizza, with tomato, mozzarella, pepperoni, chili honey, basil and a sprinkle of grana Padano. The best part was the way the sweet honey played off of the spicy pepperoni. We rounded things out with crispy fried brussels sprouts and a roasted beet “Greek” salad. A great meal to celebrate a day full of excitement.

All Purpose Buona pizza

Sunday

Since we ran all over DC the day before, we were still plenty hungry for Sunday brunch. Since we were going to Brookland for a wine class this afternoon (stay tuned), Marnay and I ate at Brookland Pint. Brookland Pint, which is known for its great local beer selection and pub grub, is a place that we frequent for drinks but not always food.

I was happy to see a Diner Burger on the menu, which is part of a larger trend of restaurants serving thinner, more management burger patties. I really don’t want a ½ pound or ¾ pound burger—a nice thin patty will do, thank you. I was pleased with my burger at Brookland Pint, topped with bacon and an over easy egg. As I picked up the burger, the egg broke and spilled delicious yolk everywhere. Marnay was also happy with her scrambled eggs and potatoes.

Brookland Pint Diner Burger in DC

The real reason we were in Brookland that morning was to take a wine class at Wardman Wines, an excellent wine store. The class, which is held about once per month, is called “An Intro to Wine: How to Love Your Palate.” It takes an analytical approach to wine, and while it is judgement-free and good for beginners, it’s already great for people who know about wine but who could always learn more.

Wardman Wines wine class in Brookland

The weekend of the Rock n’ Roll Marathon is always one of my favorite of the year, and this year was no exception. While the race is hard work and takes months of preparation, there are plenty of great food experiences to look forward to!

Ultimate Annapolis Adventure

On a Saturday morning, Marnay and I had a wild, car-free adventure in Annapolis. We saw some cool sights, got lots of exercise and had some great food and drink.

Traditionally when we go to Annapolis, we rent a Zipcar and drive there and back. This unfortunately limits what we are able drink. This time, we came up with the genius idea to get from Silver Spring to Annapolis without driving. We took the F4 Metrobus from Silver Spring to New Carrollton and then took a Lyft the rest of the way to downtown Annapolis, all for considerably less than the price of a Zipcar.

Annapolis capital

We arrived in Annapolis around noon and had brunch at Metropolitan Kitchen, one of our go-to spots for a solid meal. Metropolitan Kitchen is more known for their great craft beer selection and their nightlife than their food, but it was nice to get some traditional brunch food to start our long day.

Metropolitan Kitchen brunch in Annapolis

I had recently been in Annapolis for work, so I played tour guide and showed Marnay around some of the historic buildings. The State House, for example, is where George Washington resigned his military commission and became a private citizen. The original handwritten copy of his speech is on display in a replica of a room where the speech occurred.

After some walking, we were ready for a pick-me-up so we headed to Ceremony Coffee Roastery, in a semi-industrial area on the western edge of downtown. Ceremony is one of the most respected coffee roasters in the region and this is their original spot. They now have multiple cafes in Baltimore and Annapolis. Because the location is off the beaten path, it feels like a calm space in the otherwise crowded downtown Annapolis. We sat outside on this unseasonably warm afternoon, drank some nitro cold brew and planned the rest of the day.

Ceremony Coffee Roastery in Annapolis

There’s another part of Annapolis that I consider to be our little secret and that is the Spa Creek Trail. It starts near Ceremony, winds its way along Spa Creek behind a school and then eventually ends in a neighborhood. Once we arrived in the neighborhood, we took a short detour to Amos Garrett Park, a secluded alcove with incredibly peaceful water views.

Amos Garrett Park water view in Annapolis

Hungry, we walked back into downtown and hit up Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls. I devoured a Connecticut Roll, with lots of butter and no mayo, while Marnay ate a surprisingly good hot dog.

Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls in Annapolis

Ready for a drink, we walked across Main Street to Dry 85, the premier bar in Annapolis. Dry 85 has an incredible whiskey program, right up there with the best bars in DC. Marnay and I bellied up to the bar and enjoyed some well-made Vieux Carres and Sazeracs, in preparation for our upcoming trip to New Orleans.

Dry 85 cocktails, Vieux Carres and Sazeracs

All of this fun was leading up to our 7pm dinner at Flamant, a brand new French-Belgian restaurant from chef Frederik De Pue located in West Annapolis that has been garnering ample attention from local food writers. Flamant immediately grabbed our attention with its magnificent outdoor fire pit, perfect for this cold winter night. Very similar to Vin 909, Flamant is in a historic Craftsman house. Unlike Vin 909, Flamant takes reservations, meaning we don’t have to wait in line at some unreasonably early hour.

Flamant Salmon Rillette

Our favorite part of dinner at Flamant was that all of our small plates; the Maryland Blue Crab Rolls, the Salmon Rillette and the Cauliflower Strudel tasted exactly like their main ingredients. This seems like an obvious thing, but I mean that the crab actually received top billing in the crab rolls and the salmon flavor in the rillete was intense and not overpowered by the crème fraiche. The Old Bay gin dip for the crab rolls was a particularly nice touch. We rounded everything out with a tender, buttery roasted chicken. We watched as the chef torched a thyme sprig nestled on top the chicken from a window inside the partially open kitchen. The chef and I shared a knowing glace as he torched it – our eyes expressing something along the lines of, “This is going to be really good.” Service was professional, which was impressive because it can be tough to get fine-dining quality servers this far from a major city. Flamant is definitely a winner.

Flamant Cauliflower Strudel

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Blue Crab Rolls

Places we visited
Metropolitan Kitchen & Lounge: 175 West Street Annapolis, MD 21401
Ceremony Coffee Roasters: Roastery: The Warehouse, 90 Russell Street #500 Annapolis, MD 21401
Amos Garrett Waterfront Park: 101 Spa View Avenue Annapolis, MD 21401
Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls: 188 Main Street Annapolis, MD 21401
Dry 85: 193 B Main Street Annapolis, MD 21401
Flamant: 17 Annapolis Street Annapolis, MD 21401

Whaley’s Revisited: Just as Good in the Dining Room as at the Bar

It has been over a year since our post on our experience at the bar at Whaley’s, so we were ready to give it a fresh look, this time in the dining room. We had been back to the bar a few times in the interim and found the drinks to be good but the oysters to be a bit hit-or-miss. Mainly too gritty for our liking. On this visit, however, Whaley’s excelled in all aspects – food, service and atmosphere.

Whaley’s oysters from the Chesapeake region of Virginia and from Maine

Whaley’s is known for its raw seafood, so we started our meal with oysters. For variety, we ordered four from the Chesapeake region of Virginia and two from Maine. The oysters were superlative—all six were the right temperature, well-shucked and a nice mix between melony and briny. To complement the oysters, we ordered a bottle of Sancerre from Whaley’s reasonably priced wine list. Many bottles are under $50, which is a (welcome) trend that I am starting to see.

Marnay at Whaley's in DC

The big-eye tuna crudo was also stellar, one of the best examples of salty, sweet, spicy and sour that I have ever had. The cool-but-not-cold, perfectly and uniformly salted slices of tuna came with Seckel pears (sweet), aji amarillo consumme (spicy) and calamansi vinegar (sour). If we had the chance, we would have ordered three of these.

Whaley’s big-eye tuna crudo

It’s tempting to just get the cold dishes at Whaley’s, but it is a well-rounded restaurant and the hot plates are also very good. The best of the two hot dishes that we got were the seared day-boat scallops from Maine with Anson Mills farro, butternut squash, Cipollini onions and huckleberry jus. The huckleberry jus in particular was a great foil for the buttery yet sweet scallops. I could have done without the farro, as I did not think it brought a lot to the dish. Still, we would order the scallops again.

Whaley’s seared day-boat scallops from Maine with Anson Mills farro, butternut squash, Cipollini onions and huckleberry jus

The oyster stew, made with Benton’s ham dashi instead of the traditional cream, was inventive and tasty. My favorite part was getting a spoonful of at least one crispy ham piece and one oyster, along with that flavorful dashi. While the dish did not blow us away, I am glad that we got it. Plus, the kitchen served it in a miniature Dutch oven, so the portion was big enough to allow us a taste but not much more.

Whaley’s oyster stew made with Benton’s ham dashi

Throughout the evening, the service was professional and attentive yet not intrusive. Whaley’s showed that it is a restaurant that has hit its stride and is really coming into its own — I think that Whaley’s has taken its place among our favorite restaurants.

Best Bite
Paul: Tuna Crudo
Marnay: Oysters

Address
Whaley’s: 301 Water Street, SE #115 Washington, DC 20003
Closest Metro: Navy Yard

Winter in Philadelphia

Between Christmas and New Year’s, Marnay and I spent a brutally cold 36 hours in Philadelphia exploring as much of the dining scene as we possibly could. We took Amtrak after work on Wednesday and then kicked things off with dinner at a.kitchen.

visit

a.kitchen

a.kitchen (that’s really how it’s spelled) is a cozy restaurant inside of the AKA Hotel, located at the ritzy Rittenhouse Square. Marnay and I shared the choucrute garnie, a platter of Alsatian pork done four ways—sausage, pork chop, pork shoulder and French pork belly, or what our server described as “French Super Bacon”. All this pork goodness sat on top of addictive Riesling-braised sauerkraut that had sopped up the pork drippings. The best pork items were the sausage and the pork belly, which tasted like a really thick piece of perfectly crispy bacon.

a.kitchen 2016 Domaine Schoffit Chasselas, an Alsatian white wine

Our server smartly recommended that we pair all this pork with a 2016 Domaine Schoffit Chasselas, an Alsatian white wine with a creamy mouthfeel that effortlessly cut through the meal’s richness. All of our servers (and it truly was server-by-committee) were professional, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

Hungry Pigeon

We started our Thursday morning at Hungry Pigeon, an all-day café in the Queen Village neighborhood of South Philly. All-day cafes are a concept that has yet to gain traction in the DC-area but which has exploded in Philadelphia. At its most basic form, an all-day café as a restaurant that’s open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and for after dinner drinks. It seems like a lot of work for the restaurants, requiring many employees with different specialties, so I think that is why you do not see it that often.

Hungry Pigeon all-day cafe in Philadelphia

The chocolate croissant at Hungry Pigeon showed the marks of a great baker, with its dark golden brown skin that was crispy and flaky—sort of like the fried chicken of pastries. After our huge dinner the night before, I took it easy and ordered a vegan breakfast bowl, a really unique creation that had a brown rice porridge base, along with vegetables, avocados and kimchi. Marnay’s eggs and toast came with a crispy, square hash brown that I swear was created to try to replicate the McDonald’s hash brown. It tasted exactly like one! Eating it brought back happy memories of going to McDonald’s for breakfast and playing the McDonald’s Monopoly game.

Hungry Pigeon breakfast in Philadelphia

Walnut Street Cafe

After a few hours of truly frigid walking and exploring, we headed into Walnut Street Café, our second all-day café. Walnut Street Café is on the ground floor of a brand new skyscraper, one block south of 30th Street Station. The restaurant has floor to ceiling glass windows, great for looking out on Walnut Street towards the Schuykill River below.

Walnut Street Café in Philadelphia

On this cold day, butternut squash soup was an ideal start to the meal. The velvety soup is made richer with a drizzle of crème fraiche. Toasted seeds and diced squash add some welcome crunch. Marnay and I also shared the fried porgy, which arrived on our plate in the form of fish and chips. It was a bit of a surprise, since the menu just says “fried porgy”, but a delicious one! The batter was light and crispy but not oily and the porgy had a better, less bland (in my opinion) flavor than the traditional cod. Walnut Street Café also has an exemplary wine list, and Marnay enjoyed a glass of a white blend from a notable natural wine producer in the Finger Lakes.

Walnut Street Café fried porgy

Vernick Food & Drink

It seems to be nearly impossible to get a reservation at Vernick these days. Luckily, we were able to grab a high top table in the walk-in bar area, along with Marnay’s Mom. (A tip: The bar area opens at 4:30pm while the rest of the restaurant opens at 5:00pm.)

toast

The crab toast and roasted chicken were as incredible as they were during our last visit, impressive, since it had been almost two years. Still, the one thing that was not consistent was the service – this time it was a bit pushy, our server trying to get us to order more than we wanted. I am willing to give it a pass, if only because the food was so good, but it may be a while before we go back to Vernick.

We had so much fun with our winter adventure in Philadelphia! The all-day-café trend really needs to take off in the DC area, or we are going to be making more trips to Philly. In fact, we are returning in a few weeks. Stay tuned for more adventures!

Paul and Marnay Meyer in Philadelphia

Best Bite
Paul: Roasted chicken at Vernick
Marnay: Sausage at a.kitchen

Address
a.kitchen: 135 S 18th Street Philadelphia, PA 19103
Hungry Pigeon: 743 S 4th Street Philadelphia, PA 19147
Walnut Street Café: 2929 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19104
Vernick Food & Drink: 2031 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

Two Dinners in One Night – Richmond

We are going to start a new feature on the blog called “Two Dinners in One Night”. We recently stayed overnight in Richmond, VA but only had one night for dinner. Since we had so many places we wanted to try, we decided to eat two dinners. There was a theme, though: both restaurants are owned by Chef Brittany Anderson, one of Richmond’s finest chefs.

Metzger Bar & Butchery

Dinner 1: Metzger Bar & Butchery

The small, intimate Metzger Bar & Butchery is the chef’s first restaurant, located in the quiet residential neighborhood of Church Hill. “Metzger” is German for butcher, and the restaurant specializes in German cuisine with an emphasis on meats. Marnay started the meal with a dry Riesling-based cocktail, that iconic German wine. Our first course was Chesapeake oysters: three Ruby Salts and three Moratticos. The Ruby Salts were all briny deliciousness, however the Moratticos were simply bland.

Metzger Bar & Butchery cocktail

A slightly inauspicious start, but Metzger more than made up for it with the next two dishes, both showstoppers. The night’s special was steak tartare, hand-chopped sirloin with shallots, capers and either turmeric or paprika topped with a fabulously runny egg yolk. The mouthfeel of the perfectly salted, chewy-yet-tender raw beef was out-of-this world. It was even better when scooped onto crusty grilled garlic toast. The last time we were at Metzger, their striped bass crudo was our favorite dish. A lesson: Metzger does raw really well.

As good as the steak tartare was, the restaurant topped it with their chicken schnitzel, so crispy yet so tender to be almost airy. We have no idea how they get the chicken to taste like this, but if we did we would be making a lot more chicken at home.

Metzger Bar & Butchery steak tartare

Dinner 2: Brenner Pass

After getting the check at Metgzer, we hopped in a Lyft and headed across town to Brenner Pass, the chef’s second restaurant located in the red-hot Scott’s Addition neighborhood. The scene at the restaurant was hopping, full of 20-somethings at the bar, the total opposite of the sedate Metzger. In DC terms, it was like going from Cleveland Park to Shaw.

Brenner Pass bar

We talked to the bartender as soon as we arrived, since going in we knew we wanted a bottle of wine. He gave us an option each for sparkling, white and red. The one he got most excited about was a bottle from the Lombardy region of Italy, so that’s what we went with. It was actually off-menu; we felt like such insiders! The wine had some weight to it, so the bartended suggested decanting it. Good choice, as letting it breathe really opened it up.

Brenner Pass wine from Lombardy

Since the last thing we ate was the schnitzel, we chose the Shaved Fall Vegetables, a lighter option. The salad was resplendent with ribbons of parsnips and carrots and topped with a cracked pepper ricotta, along with golden raisins. I don’t think that parsnips get enough respect, but I love their sweet but not too-sweet flavor, complemented by the rich ricotta.

For dessert, we ordered the Mont Blanc, which gets my award for the prettiest dessert ever. It was almost too pretty to eat! Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain in Western Europe, located in the Alps at the border of France and Italy. Our Mont Blanc was an almond cake with a snowy base of vanilla barvarian cream and “icebergs” of citrus meringue. The mountain was then topped off with a dusting of “snow” –powdered sugar.

Brenner Pass Mont Blanc dessert

Once we finished our wine, we were definitely ready to go home and go to sleep. I don’t think we will be doing many more of these Two Dinners in One Night events, but it was a lot of fun! In terms of food, Metzger Bar & Butchery was our favorite. As far as atmosphere, Brenner Pass was the clear winner. Both places offer reasons for us to go back.

Best Bite
Marnay and Paul: Schnitzel

Address
Metzger Bar & Butchery: 801 N. 23rd Street Richmond, VA 23223
Brenner Pass: 3220 Rockbridge Street #100 Richmond, VA 23230