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

Bindaas – Foggy Bottom

On a frigid Thursday night, Marnay and I checked out Bindaas at the Indian street food purveyor’s Foggy Bottom location. This was our first time at Bindaas (the original is located in Cleveland Park). Afterwards, the most important question in our head was – what took us so long?!?

Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

I started out with a masala lassi – a traditional yogurt and spiced based traditional Indian beverage. It was nearly savory, although with a touch of sweetness. We ordered four dishes, and once they are ready they start appearing rapid-fire. There isn’t much coursing, but since you are going to end up sharing everything it is not a big deal.

The puffy, pillowy olive oil naan was a great way to orient our palates from the work day to the Indian subcontinent. A wild mushroom uttapam, or rice pancake, was a mushroom bonanza. Not only that, though, it was quite spicy. A swab of mint raita proved to be a worthy foil.

Wild mushroom uttapam at Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

Then there was the shrimp bezule, or breaded and fried shrimp, which was pleasantly light. The modest-sized shrimp gave off a very distinct jalepeno flavor. A garnish of mustard seeds, toasted in oil, added a bit more crunch and heat.

Shrimp bezule at Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

We rounded the meal out with a chicken kathi wrap. The chicken tikka masala, wrapped in naan, was dripping with flavor. A little mint chutney on the side for dipping helped lighten things and give a contrast in temperatures (the wrap was really hot, temperature-wise). It seriously was cold on the night that we went to Bindaas. But the Indian comfort food really warmed our souls and left us wanting more.

Chicken kathi wrap at Bindaas Indian street food in Foggy Bottom, DC

Best Bite
Paul: Chicken Kathi Wrap
Marnay: Shrimp bezule

Address
Bindaas Foggy Bottom: 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20006
Closest Metro: Farragut North or Farragut West

Atlanta Recap

For my birthday weekend in November, Marnay and I headed to Atlanta for a quick getaway. This was our first time in Atlanta and we couldn’t wait to start exploring.

Atlanta skyline from the Beltline

Friday

We flew out of BWI on Friday night. Since I work in Baltimore and Marnay works in downtown DC, this is the easiest airport to get to on work nights. We don’t typically include our flights in our travel recaps, but we had to include our meal at the airport. Varasano’s Pizzeria, which has a location in Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta, is actually an incredible pizzeria. Jeff Varasano, the man who figured how to hack off the lock on the self-cleaning feature of his home oven so he could cook homemade pizzas at 800 degrees, is something of a pizza savant. While he is originally from New York, he chose Atlanta to open a pizzeria. (The main location is in the Buckhead neighborhood). As soon as we landed in Atlanta, we made our way to Concourse A. It was about 9:30pm and the restaurant was closing, so we took a Margherita Di Bufala pizza and ate it in the baggage claim. It was so much fun and so delicious.

Margharita Di Bufala pizza from Varasano's Pizza in the Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta

Saturday

Our Airbnb was in the Inman Park neighborhood, immediately behind the transformative rail trail called the Beltline. Inman Park is one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Atlanta, which is a very spread out city.

We wanted to explore and hike one of Georgia’s mountains so we rented a Zipcar from the Edgewood-Candler Park metro. On our 1-mile walk to the car, we picked up coffee and an incredible croissant from one of our Atlanta favorites, Bread and Butterfly. Conveniently, Bread and Butterfly was directly across the street from our Airbnb.

Breakfast at Bread and Butterfly in Atlanta

The highways in Atlanta are insane, mainly because this area has poor public transit and a tremendous amount of sprawl. We traveled to Forsyth County, in the northern exurbs, and stopped at Dutch Monkey Donuts for an excellent caramel apple fritter. Feeling sated, we drove about 20 more minutes north to Sawnee Mountain Preserve.

Eating a caramel apple fritter at Dutch Monkey Donuts in Forsyth County, Georgia

The brisk 4-mile hike led us up Sawnee Mountain on the Indian Seats Trail for some amazing views of Northern Georgia. This part of Georgia is at the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, which stretch from Alabama to eastern Canada. From the top of the mountain, we could see as far as the Tennessee-North Carolina border, 52 miles away. The hike was just right – good exercise, but not so difficult that we would be worn out.

View from the top of our hike at Sawnee Mountain Preserve in Georgia

Although we had been snacking all day, we had not had an actual meal. We hopped in the car and drove to Masterpiece in Duluth, a suburb northeast of Atlanta known for its excellent Asian cuisine. Masterpiece was recently named a semi-finalist for Best Chef Southeast by the James Beard Awards, so we had high expectations. With one dish, Masterpiece immediately exceeded those expectations. The Dong Po Pork is a braised block of pork belly in an ethereal brown sauce, part sweet, part salty, party spicy. I want to eat that pork belly every day for a week.

Dong Po Pork, braised pork belly in an ethereal brown sauce at Masterpiece in Duluth, Georgia

Sunday

Since Saturday involved driving around the region, we decided to stay local on Sunday and explore the city. It was another beautiful day so Marnay and I walked on the Beltline to Little Tart Bakeshop, in Krog Street Market. Krog Street Market is a new-wave food hall in Inman Park, about half a mile from our Airbnb. Little Tart Bakeshop was a 2018 James Beard Foundation finalist for Best Baker (in the entire country!), so they also had a lot to live up to. Our best bites were a slice of the cranberry-almond butter cake and the apple gallete.

Breakfast at Little Tart Bakeshop at Krog Street Market in Atlanta

We then made a required stop at Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park to pay our respects. The park encompasses the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church and his birthplace. This is a important visit for any stay in Atlanta, as we cannot forget our country’s history.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta

Afterwards, we took the Atlanta Streetcar to Centennial Olympic Park, home of the 1996 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. This is definitely the heart of the tourist area but it was a great outdoor space and surprisingly large.

Marnay and Paul at the Coca Cola sign in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta

The issue with this area, though, is that the downtown is COMPLETELY dead. One of the worst downtowns we have even seen. It is most likely because Atlanta is so spread out, but this is definitely not where the action is. That is why we stayed in Inman Park!

We hopped right back on the streetcar to escape downtown and had some downtime at Chrome Yellow Trading Company, a very hip coffee shop near the King Historic District. We had a great time writing in our journal and sipping on a cold brew.

Drinking cold brew coffee at Chrome Yellow Trading Company near the King Historic District in Atlanta

After that relaxing time, though, it was back to more walking on the fantastic Beltline. It’s just a phenomenal addition to Atlanta (or any city), and the whole idea was cooked up by a couple of grad students. We checked out Ponce City Market, which was like a hyper-upscale version of Krog Street Market, with high-end stores in addition to food. To be honest, it was a little too much.

Walking by Ponce City Market on the Beltline in Atlanta

Later that night, after some relaxation at our Airbnb, we headed to dinner at Chai Pani in the close-in suburb of Decatur. It is so close to where we were staying, you could easily call Decatur part of Atlanta. Chai Pani, a purveyor of authentic Indian street food, ended up being our favorite meal of the trip. We were wild for the matchstick okra fries, so crispy and so salty (and absolutely not slimy). The vegetable uttapam, a rice pancake, was also stellar.

Matchstick okra fries and vegetable uttapam at Chai Pani in Atlanta

Monday

Happy birthday to me! We celebrated the morning by walking over to Bread and Butterfly for a chocolate croissant. I could have picked anything for my birthday, but all I really wanted to do was get a croissant from Bread and Butterfly and then go for a long walk on the Beltline.

Chocolate croissant and coffee at Bread and Butterfly in Atlanta

By early afternoon, unfortunately, it was time to head to the airport. But the fun wasn’t over, because that meant we could have another pizza at Varasano’s, and MAN was it good. Not only does this pizza look perfect, it tasted phenomenal. I can’t say enough about it.

Pizza at Varasano's Pizza in the Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta

What to know if you want to visit Atlanta:

  • Almost all of the hotels in Atlanta are downtown. There is absolutely nothing to do downtown outside of Centennial Olympic Park. Instead, try to stay in an Airbnb in a neighborhood along the Beltline, like we did.
  • Be aware that the public transit system is not great. You will need to either rent a car or take Uber/Lyft.
  • Make sure you don’t miss out on the restaurants that are just outside the city, such as Masterpiece and Chai Pani.
  • Spend some time on the Beltline! Seriously, we can’t stress that enough. It’s the coolest attraction in Atlanta.

Momofuku CCDC Revisited

It has been over two years since we visited Momofuku CCDC and the restaurant has had some momentous changes since then, so it was time for a return visit. Back then the City Center hot spot had a menu full of David Chang’s greatest hits plus dessert from neighboring Milk Bar. We liked the food fine-enough, but certainly weren’t impressed with dessert. It was a place that we may have eventually gone back to, but a return visit certainly wasn’t imminent.

Since then, they have installed a new chef, Tae Strain, who has been given complete control over the menu. So long ramen and pork buns, hello bing bread. When we walked in, the noise in the bar & its surrounding dining area was so loud it was intimidating. Fortunately, the host took us down a short hallway to a more secluded dining area, slightly set off from the rest of the restaurant.

Momofuku CCDC in Washington DC

The new Momofuku CCDC is the rare restaurant that actually requires a rundown of the menu from the server, because of the recent menu changes. No matter what you order, you can’t miss out on the bing bread. These housemade, warm, pita-like rounds come with several choices of toppings. Marnay and I went with the sunflower hozon, a David Chang trademarked creation that tastes like hummus.

Bing bread with sunflower hozon at Momofuku CCDC in Washington DC

We also tried the spicy cucumbers which came with almond togarashi and some sort of green paste/puree—cheffy touches that completely transformed the vegetable. As leftovers the next day, they were even more flavorful yet did not lose their crunch.

The true showstopper of our meal was the bronzed whole roasted chicken which comes with a salad and rice. This isn’t just any rice through. This is chicken fat basmati rice, with chunks of pulled roasted chicken, vegetables, dried currants and 3 fried eggs on top. Absolutely decadent…and it was just a side!

The chicken is cut into pieces and served in a large platter, alongside roasted peppers, green olives and herbs. The olives were a bit of a surprise, but they provided a nice mildly salty contribution to the dish. The best part of the roasted chicken was the irresistible crispy wings. Even though the chicken was roasted, they were so crispy they tasted like they had been fried.

Bronzed whole roasted chicken with chicken fat basmati rice at Momofuku CCDC in Washington DC

The new menu has a lot of great sharable items, such as a whole duck and whole short rib. Based on our recent visit, we would definitely return, maybe even with a group. We did not get a chance to try the new, non-Milk Bar desserts, and that is reason enough to go back!

Best Bite
Paul: spicy cucumbers
Marnay: roasted chicken

Address
Momofuku CCDC: 1090 I St NW Washington DC, 20001
Closest Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown or Metro Center

Southwestern Vacation Recap: Tucson

Welcome to the second post from our Southwestern vacation recap. You can read our El Paso and New Mexico recap here.

Paul climbing Tumamoc Hill in Tucson, Arizona

We took Amtrak from El Paso to Tucson, about a seven hour trip. Although it was not overnight, we got a roomette so that we would have our own space for the journey. Most of the trip was through the Chihuahuan Desert landscape of New Mexico. Since we were traveling in the evening, we were able to eat dinner in the dining car. Of course, I had my traditional Amtrak signature steak.

The dining car on Amtrak from El Paso, Texas to Tucson, Arizona

Our Airbnb was near the University of Arizona and along the route of the Tucson street car. It was a very modest home, and from the front window we would sit and watch the streetcar go by. Our Airbnb hosts were local restaurateurs and we practically lived at the nearby Time Market, a gourmet market and restaurant that they owned. The market bakes its own bread daily and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Paul walking into our Airbnb in Tucson, Arizona

Eating breakfast at Time Market in Tucson, Arizona

What we ate

Tucson is a large city and home to many different types of food, especially Sonoran cuisine: a mix from Mexico (specifically the state of Sonora), Arizona and Native Americans.

For local modern-American cuisine, we found nowhere better than Augustin Kitchen, in the mixed-used neighborhood of Mercado San Augustin. Highlights included the Mustard and Melon Salad with perfectly cooked Arizona sirloin and a sarsaparilla float for dessert with Isabella’s vanilla ice cream.

The Mustard and Melon Salad with perfectly cooked Arizona sirloin for lunch from Augstin Kitchen at Mercado San Augustin in Tucson, Arizona

We returned to Mercado San Augustin the following day to have one of their quintessential Sonoran desserts, the raspado at Sonoran Sno-Cones. Raspados are shaved ice made with real fruit and real juice and often come in sour flavors, such as chamoy lime. You can also add condensed milk and Mexican-chile candies. Marnay and got a mangoyada and I got a mango and chamoy raspado with chile candies. The chile candies were spicy, but still sweet like candy and had a chewy texture. We sat in the open-air courtyard of the mercado and enjoyed the live music and the Tucson night-sky.

Raspados from Sonoran Sno-Cones at Mercado San Augustin in Tucson, Arizona

South Tucson is where the best Mexican-restaurants can be found, and Los Tacos Apson did not disappoint. In fact, we had the best barbacoa tacos we have ever had! It’s hard to describe just how amazing the taste was of these tacos. They have a smoky flavor and simply melted in your mouth.

Barbacoa and rib tacos at Los Tacos Apson in Tucson, Arizona

Smoking the meat at Los Tacos Apson in Tucson, Arizona

On our last day in Tucson, we had Sonoran-style hot dogs! We went to El Guero Canelo, which unbeknownst to us had just won a James Beard Foundation American Classic Award. A Sonoran-style hot dog is a bacon-wrapped dog top with beans, onions, mustard, jalapenos and a little bit of mayo. All of this is inside a special bolillo bun, a soft Mexican roll that is the most important part of a Sonoran-style dog. It’s not a Sonoran hot dog without the bolillo bun.

Sonoran-style hot dogs from El Guero Canelo in Tucson, Arizona

What we did

We weren’t sure what to expect at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, however, it blew us away. It’s a museum in name only, as it is over 80% outdoors. It also seamlessly blends in with the landscape, since it’s completely surrounded by Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park.

Marnay walking at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona

Our Airbnb host recommended the hike up Tumamoc Hill, on the western edge of downtown Tucson. The trail is paved and it basically goes straight up, with some very steep switchbacks. It’s a nature preserve and it shows off the most distinctive feature of the Sonoran Desert landscape, Saguaro cacti. These monarchs of the desert can grow to over 40 feet tall and live for over 150 years. This is an intense hike, but it is remarkably popular with locals. Because it is so hot in the summer, people don’t start hiking until sunset. We opted to go a little earlier so that by the time we reached the top the sun would be setting.

View from the top of our hike at Tumamoc Hill in Tucson, Arizona

From the top, you can see almost all of Tucson, and if you are facing south you can see all the way to the Mexico border. I could tell because you can make out the route of Interstate 19 going from Tucson to Nogales. I think that we saw arguably the best sunset of the trip here. We loved Tumamoc Hill so much we did it twice!

Sunset at the top of our hike at Tumamoc Hill in Tucson, Arizona

This desert vacation was like nothing we had ever done. I highly recommend going to the desert, if only for the amazing sunsets. Perhaps one day we will be back!