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

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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

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

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

Kinship

We made reservations a month out for dinner at Kinship, the new restaurant in Mt Vernon Triangle from acclaimed chef Eric Ziebold (James Beard Award Best-Chef Mid-Atlantic, 2008).The menu is separated into “Craft”, “History”, “Ingredients”, “Indulgence” and “For the Table.”   This is one of the few restaurants where an introduction to the menu from the server is actually necessary.

Kinship menu

The restaurant feels like it is in someone’s narrow rowhome, with brick walls and low lighting.  We knew going in exactly what we wanted to eat so we ordered drinks and food and the same time.  I started with the Kinship Spritz (Cocchi Americano, Dolin Blanc, Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Champagne) and Marnay got a glass of French Chenin Blanc.  For some reason, my drink came at least five minutes before Marnay’s.  When it finally arrived, her glass of wine was brought by the manager of the front of the house (who happens to be the chef’s wife) instead of our server.  The exact same thing happened when we ordered a second drink.  There is no doubt that we received great service at Kinship and we left feeling like VIPs.  There was just a lot of duplication of effort among the staff.  Not really a critique, just something that we noticed.

Kinship cocktails

Our meal started with the torchon of white mushrooms from the “Craft” section, a riff on a torchon of foie gras, with baby beet and wild mushroom salad served on top of a huckleberry gastrique along with slices of toasted brioche.  The torchon was rich and earthy on its own but it was transformed when spread on the toasted brioche along with the gastrique.

Kinship torchon of white mushroom

We also ordered Kinship’s famous roast chicken, from the “For the Table” section. We got a little hungry waiting for it to be made (it takes at least an hour) but I am glad we did not order another dish because the chicken is a lot for two people. When the chicken was finished, the server presented it to us (perfect picture opportunity!) before bringing it back to the kitchen to cut into pieces.  The garlicky, buttery skin was the best part of the dish.  Second best was chef Ziebold’s famous Parker House rolls, pillowy and soft.  Last, but certainly not least, was the well season fried potatoes.

Kinship famous roast chicken

Kinship is a cozy neighborhood restaurant with James Beard Award quality food at reasonable prices.  The roast chicken, for example, cost less than two individual entrees.  While we had to make our reservations a month in advance, the full menu is offered at the bar and there was no one sitting there when we arrived at 7:00pm on a Tuesday.

Kinship famous roast chicken

Now go and try it!

Best Bite
Marnay: Torchon of White Mushroom
Paul: Torchon of White Mushroom

Address
Kinship: 1015 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
Closest Metro: Mt Vernon Square

Bonchon

On one of the first warm Sunday nights of the year, we worked up an appetite walking around Yards Park and then headed over to Bonchon. There are multiple Bonchons in the DC area and we have been to the one in Rockville and the one in Hyattsville, but the Navy Yard location is by far the most modern and has the nicest bar.

This location has a good beer selection, so Marnay got a Hardywood Singel on draft while I got a bottle of Victory Golden Monkey, a Belgian Tripel.   There are a few other choices on the menu, but you cannot go to Bonchon without getting their signature dish.  The point of going to Bonchon is to eat the golden, double-fried Korean Fried Chicken.

Because the chicken is made to order, it can take a while.  We ordered edamame to tide us over.  The soybeans were nicely salted and went well with our cold beers.

Twenty-five to thirty minutes after we ordered our small combo of wings and drumsticks with soy garlic glaze arrived.  Biting into Bonchon fried chicken is one of the most satisfying culinary experiences that I can think of. The glaze has a garlicky flavor which comes out initially but then moves to more sweet and salty. The chicken is fresh and piping hot, the crust shattering as soon as you bite into it.

Our server was very friendly and engaging.  My only qualms were that the last drumstick I ate tasted a little burnt and the Golden Monkey tasted slightly old.  All in all, this is some incredible fried chicken and a great value.

Best Bite
The chicken, obviously!

Best Sip
Hardywood Singel

Address
Bonchon: 1015 Half St. SE, Washington, DC 20003
Closest Metro: Navy Yard

Vernick Food & Drink

This is not something that I say lightly, but our meal at Vernick Food & Drink was the best all-around meal we have ever had.  It started before we even got there.  We were running a little late for our reservation, so I called to let the restaurant know.  When we arrived, the hostess was genuinely thrilled that we let them know.

We were dining with Marnay’s good friend Tracy as well as Marnay’s Mom, who has joined us for a number of the dining adventures featured on this blog.  The hostess led us back through the bar to the narrow dining room in front of the open kitchen.  Our table was in the section of the dining room that was right in front of Chef Vernick.  It was actually a better location than the chef’s counter, at the opposite end.  The smell from the kitchen was intoxicating as soon as we sat down.

The menu is separated into toast, raw, vegetables, small plates, large plates and simply roasted from the wood oven.  Vernick is famous for its toast, so we knew for sure that would be an essential part of our meal.   Before we made any decision, though, we ordered some drinks.  Marnay’s Mom and Tracy got glasses of cava and Marnay had a glass of Sonoma Chardonnay.  I had a cocktail named El Chucho Roto, a mezcal and amaro based drink.  The amaro really cut out the smokiness of the mezcal.

After consulting with our server, we ordered the Maryland crab toast, the pumpkin and brown butter toast, the spaghetti squash salad with a crispy egg and mushroom leek vinaigrette, the pasta special with homemade spaghetti, olive oil poached Icelandic cod in a spicy saffron tomato sauce, brussels sprouts in an ancho caramel sauce and finally, half of a roasted organic Amish chicken in a lemon herb jus.  Our incredible server asked if she could take the liberty of pacing out the dishes for us, which the restaurant did beautifully.

First came an amuse bouche of celery root soup w/ spicy arugula oil in an espresso cup, for drinking.  Our first official course was the crab toast with a lemon aioli and the spaghetti squash.   The spaghetti squash had a breaded, fried poached egg sitting in the middle which our server suggested that we break open first.  That way, the runny yolk would become the sauce for the squash.    The toast, cut in threes, is intended to be shared.  When we started biting into in, the entire table fell silent.  The toast was thick but not so thick so that you couldn’t bite into it, with just the right amount of crunch.  The crab was extremely fresh and tasted like the sea.

Once we were done, the server brought our next course about three minutes later.  We thought that the pumpkin and brown butter toast might be sweet, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the rich pumpkin only had a touch of sweetness.

After we finished the toast, our server brought us a chili vinegar for the roasted chicken.  As an example of how great our server was, Marnay asked her what was in the vinegar.  Our server knew every ingredient, down to the toasted fennel.  It was as if she made it herself.

Before our next course, we ordered a second round of drinks.  Marnay got another chardonnay and her Mom and Tracy got more cava.  I, however, wanted to test our server.  I told her that I wanted a local beer—the style didn’t matter, but since we don’t live in the area, I want something local.  She stared at me for a few seconds and then asked, “Do you like sour beers?”  I love sour beers!  It was almost as if she stared into my soul.  She recommended a saison from Tired Hands that’s brewed with salt and citrus.

When the rest of our order came out, we received potatoes and shishito peppers “complements of Chef Greg.”  We had been praising him and pointing at the kitchen all night, mesmerized by what was going on, and he must have heard us!   He was so focused all night, though.  It was a wonder to watch.

The chicken was possibly the most perfectly seasoned roasted chicken any of us had ever had.  It went very fast.

The cod in the homemade spaghetti was broken into small pieces, which reminded me of shrimp.  The brussels sprouts were at once smoky and hot from the ancho and sweet from the caramel.  The flavors were intense, but they balanced out nicely.

When we first ordered, I mentioned that we could always take home leftovers if we were ordering too much.  That certainly was not necessary!  All that was left was a few brussels sprouts.

After a meal this great, of course we had to get dessert.  We got the toasted walnut maple pie with bourbon ice cream as well as the chocolate crisp ice cream.  The pie tasted like a much, much better version of a pecan pie and the bourbon ice cream was rich, dense and flavorful.

As we were leaving, we noticed that the Chef took a break from what he was doing.  He waited until we put our coats and then personally thanked us for coming.  We did not see him do that for anyone else.

A little touch like that just set us over the edge from a great meal to an exceptional meal.  All four of us agreed that this was probably the best all-around meal ever.  We felt like we were treated like VIPs.

Best Bite
Marnay: Crab Toast
Paul: Spaghetti Squash Salad with Crispy Egg

Best sip
Marnay and Paul: El Chucho Roto

Address
Vernick Food & Drink: 2031 Walnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

Peter Chang

We made a game-time decision on a Thursday night to go to Peter Chang in Rockville Town Center. Peter Chang is the former chef at the Chinese Embassy and has a history of opening a restaurant in the South and then disappearing. More about that here

The restaurant was crowded when we arrived, but we got a table right away. We started out with two of his signature dishes: scallion bubble pancakes and dry fried eggplant. The dry fried eggplant looks like thick French fries dusted with Szechuan peppercorns and herbs, along with a sprinkle of salt. The peppercorns are more than just spicy, they truly give off a numbing sensation.

The scallion bubble pancake is one of the craziest things we have ever eaten, a work of art. I’m just glad that we have visual proof of the thing, because it’s hard to do it justice through words alone. It tasted a little like fried wontons, but more doughy and more like fresh bread. Very addicting and very difficult to stop eating, especially when dipped in a warm curry sauce.

These were just our appetizers. We knew we were ordering more food than we could eat, but the food makes for great leftovers. Marnay got Golden Mountain Chicken, which is similar to a classic Sesame Chicken but much fresher. This is what Sesame Chicken wishes it could be.

I got the Szechuan Double Cooked Pork Belly, which was stir-fried with leeks, cabbage and Szechuan black bean paste. This was a very rich dish. It’s was not particularly spicy, although I don’t think it was intended to be. The leeks were the most prominent non-pork belly part of the dish. The white parts of the leeks felt more incorporated in the dish than the green parts. The black bean sauce was subtle and didn’t overpower the dish, it just added a little saltiness. Not too much, though, because the dish already had plenty of salt from the pork belly.

Overall, it was a fantastic Szechuan dinner. I am sure that we will be back to Peter Chang, and soon!

Address
Peter Chang: 20A Maryland Ave, Rockville, MD 20850
Closest Metro: Rockville

Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oysters

For our last dinner in Charleston, we went to Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oysters. Two days before we left for Charleston, Leon’s was named one of Southern Living magazine’s best restaurants in the South. Husk was on the list as well. Leon’s is another restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, so we had an early dinner. It was pretty crowded when we got there, and they stuck us in the corner. We were near the large garage-style doors, and it would have been nice if they were open. However, it was raining that day.

The food, though, was another story. We started off our meal with oysters from Prince Edward Island and Massachusetts.  I thought it was a little odd that there weren’t any local oysters, but then again I’ve never seen oysters from the Carolinas on a menu. The one oyster that stood out was called “Cooke’s Cocktail”, from PEI. They were huge!!!! But they also had the most interesting flavor. They were surprisingly salty for an oyster that meaty.

Our main course was fried chicken with a side of brussel sprouts. The brussel sprouts were fried and were cooked with red wine vinegar and piperade, which is a Basque condiment of onions, green peppers and tomatoes sautéed with Esplette pepper. The brussel sprouts were slightly crispy from being fried lightly, they had a tang from the red wine vinegar and they had a kick from the Esplette pepper. It was the best version of brussel sprouts that we’ve ever had. They were incredible! We each got two pieces of fried chicken: Paul had two pieces of dark meat and Marnay had two pieces of white meat. The chicken was very hot when it came to the table, like it was right out of the fryer. Fried chicken is easily the most popular dish at Leon’s, so I’m sure they make a ton every night. The chicken was served in a small plastic basket with red and white checked paper beneath it-very casual. The skin was SO crispy. It tasted like it had been fried twice, similar to Korean fried chicken.

When we started eating it, we were surprised that it was quite spicy. I smelled it when it came to the table and noticed that it smelled like Old Bay. I asked the server and sure enough, it was Old Bay. The chicken was absolutely amazing. I (Paul) think that it was my favorite dish of the trip. My mouth is watering while I type this! Overall, the food at Leon’s was excellent; the atmosphere leaves something to be desired. When you compare it to Xiao Bao, Xiao Bao wins on atmosphere alone. But my mind keeps coming back to that fried chicken!!

Address
Leons Fine Poultry and Oysters: 698 King St, Charleston, SC 29403