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

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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