Bethesda

Mussel Bar: First Impressions

Mussel_Bar_ChefsIn the months, weeks and finally days leading up to the opening of Mussel Bar, Robert Wiedmaier's new restaurant in Bethesda, you could hear people talking on the street about it. "I can't wait for that place to open!" I heard groups of people say as we passed by. People were definitely looking forward to this place opening.  It's been a long time since a new restaurant like this came in Bethesda. The last one I can remember is Redwood, and we all know how that went.  

Anyway, Mussel Bar finally opened on Thursday, after pushing back the opening day from Wednesday. Another reason I could tell it was long awaited? The already hour-long wait when Amy and I arrived Friday night at barely 6:30. Luckily, the small bar was no more than one level of people deep so we were able to get a beer and wait it out. We heard the wait times increasing, one hour and ten minutes, 1 hour and 20 minutes, until when we were finally seated, 1 hour and 30 minutes. Not bad for it only being your second night open.

When you first enter the restaurant, the aroma of the mussels and all the broths is intoxicating. Someone should bottle this as a perfume/cologne and sell it. There is not much of a waiting area, so you are forced to congregate around the bar, which isn't very large itself. Overall, the entire restaurant seats a maximum of 125 people, which makes me think there will be many long waits in the future for people.

Tap_listAs with most of Robert Wiedmaier's restaurants, beers, not wines, are the focus. A small selection of draft beers is available, with a large (not Brickskeller large) selection of bottled beers. On tap Friday night, were Brabo Pils, Delirium Tremens, Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, Gouden Carolus Tripel, Kasteel Rouge, and Kasteel Donker. Prices for the draft beers range from $7 to $13, which was a little pricey in my opinion. At least that's what I thought at first, until I tried the Gouden Carolus Tripel and realized what I'd been missing all these years. While we were waiting at the bar, a guy came up and ordered a Bud Light. "Sorry sir, we don't have Bud Light," the bartender said. 

"Do you have any light beers?" he replied.

"No sir, we don't." 

(I'll leave the any further beer analysis to the likes of Drew and Rob since they know a lot more in this area than I.) 

Once we were finally seated, everything went pretty smoothly, particularly for a new restaurant getting so thoroughly slammed on its second night open. Our waiter explained the menu, which was not too complex. There is a small selection of salads and soups ranging in price from $7.50 to $15. It was way too hot out for soup, so we chose a couple of light salads; one with roasted beets, grapefruit, cumin, herbed yogurt, and a confit of lemons and raisins, and the other an asparagus salad with a poached egg and bacon. Both were very big successes 

Mussels_at_mussel_bar Of course, Mussel Bar has moules frites and are all $16. The mussels are all “Blue Bay” Prince Edward Island mussels, which is what you would expect. There are also some wood-fired tarts, which are basically flatbreads/pizzas, and some sandwiches. If you're looking for something on the larger side, there are three entrees including a short rib bolognese pappardelle available in a full or half portion, a grilled strip steak, and a grilled Atlantic salmon. that range in price from $22 to $24.

We figured getting anything other than mussels on our first visit would be criminal, so Amy and I both ordered our own. Amy beat me to ordering the wild 'shroom preparation with pancetta, Parmesan, and truffle cream, so I went with the "classic" mussels with garlic, shallot and white wine broth. The staff deliver the mussels in piping hot cast iron pans. Upon placing them on the dining table, the staff took the covers off the pans and oh, man, it smelled so good. We took deep breaths and then dug in. I was loving the "classic" mussels I had ordered, but after trying Amy's 'shroom mussels, mine just seemed outright bland. I think the added touch of truffle is really what made them stand out. 

Mussel_Bar_frites The mussels themselves were cooked well, but my only complaint is that there were a good deal of mussels with a tiny amount of meat inside. The frites were very crispy and made for good dipping in the mussel broth as we ate. Although, I would not say the frites are classic frites that follow the fry and bake cooking approach, but thought they were delicious.

We skipped dessert because we were full, and the dessert selection is not especially tempting. You have a choice of vanilla or chocolate ice cream and a vanilla creme brulee. While Amy is a big fan of creme brulee, she was way too full to eat anymore.

Overall, our first visit to Mussel Bar was very successful and we'll definitely be going back. I only hope that things calm down a bit in the coming months and the wait goes down. If the wait scares you, you probably want to get there on the very early side, or try a weeknight (although not Monday night -- they're closed).

Mussel Bar
262 Woodmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
301.215.7817
www.musselbar.com


Foodie To-Do List: Top Chef Masters, Montgomery County Farm Tour, Bethesda Chevy Chase Restaurant Week

TodoAs part of an ongoing effort to alert you, the readers of DC Foodies, to all of the really cool food-related events, classes and opportunities throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, we give you this week's edition of the Foodie To-Do List.

Each Wednesday, we give you a heads-up on a few of the upcoming events that we think look particularly interesting.  This week, we've got:

Watch Art & Soul's Art Smith Compete on Tonight's Episode of "Top Chef Masters" at Art & Soul:

What:
With five of six winners' slots filled, Top Chef Masters is heading into the home stretch with tonight's episode.  Here in DC, we've got a chance to watch one of our adopted celebrity chefs compete: Art Smith, whose Art & Soul is in the Liaison Hotel on Capitol Hill.  To celebrate his participation, the restaurant will feature complimentary signature appetizers and will air the episode at 10 PM.

When:
Tonight (Wednesday, July 22)
Happy Hour from 8 to 11, Top Chef Masters airs at 10 PM

Where:
Art & Soul in the Liaison
415 New Jersey Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Why:
Check out ArtBar and enjoy some classic Art Smith dishes while watching to see if the chef can bring home the big check for his charity, Common Threads.  As far as we know, this is the only formal Top Chef Masters watch party in DC.

Cost: 
Hors d'oeuvres are complimentary, just pay for your drinks (and be sure to try one or two of their cocktails while you're there!).  If you're hungry, you can also enjoy a Top Chef-inspired three course tasting menu for $39, with a portion of the proceeds going toward Common Threads.


Montgomery County Farm Tour & Harvest Sale
:

What: 
For 20 years now, Montgomery County has put together an annual event celebrating the farms and producers within the county.  Their brochure promises music, demonstrations and activities in addition to the sale of fresh produce and flowers at various farms.

When: 
Saturday and Sunday, July 25th and 26th, 10 AM to 4 PM

Where: 
More than a dozen farms throughout Montgomery County - check the website for participants

Why: 
We've got a surprising number of farms within a short drive of Washington, and this is a great opportunity to get to know many of the local producers who show up week after week at our neighborhood farmers' markets.  It's a great weekend excursion for all ages.

Cost:
The tour is free, all you need to do is pay for your purchases in support of these local enterprises.

Bethesda-Chevy Chase Summer Restaurant Week:

What:
You know the drill by now.  Thirty-one restaurants in the area will be offering two course lunches and three course dinners at special fixed prices next week.

When:
Monday, July 27th through Sunday, August 2nd. 

Where:
30 participating restaurants in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area (and the Old Angler's Inn in Potomac).  Most are concentrated along Wisconsin, Woodmont, Bethesda and Cornell Avenues.

Why: 
Restaurant Week remains the best way to introduce yourself to new restaurants that you've been meaning to try but haven't gotten around to.  The best places use it as a chance to show off; the worst consider it a burden and it shows in their offerings.  Make sure to ask about their menu before you commit - since it's such a concentrated area, it's easy to move on to the next restaurant if your first choice looks disappointing.

Cost:
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Restaurant Week is a little more complicated than DC Restaurant Week.  Participating restaurants offer their menus at either $12 or $15 for lunch and $25-$30 per person for dinner.  Check the listings to figure out when your top choices are participating and what they're charging, and then make your reservations. 

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If you would like your events posted here, please email help@dcfoodies.com with the event info.


Assaggi Mozzarella Bar: A First Look

When I heard that someone was opening a "mozzarella bar" in Bethesda last month, I was definitely intrigued.  Can a restaurant in an area with as many options as Bethesda hope to succeed with such a specialized concept?

AssaggiAs it turns out, Assaggi won't have to find out.  While they do plan to offer a full-service mozzarella bar complete with a cheese and charcuterie specialist who will be slicing and serving their various offerings, Assaggi is actually a very accessible Italian restaurant that features a variety of salads, pastas and meat dishes in addition to their signature mozzarrella tastings.  Taking over where Centro left off (and using a few similar design elements while incorporating a distinctly new feel), Assaggi provides a different taste of the Mediterranean.  In fact, the name of the restaurant means "taste" or "sample."

And taste we did.  We began with the Assagi di Mozzarella, which allowed us to sample three of the five mozzarella varieties on offer with a choice of four accompaniments.  The cheese options on the menu: burrata (a buffalo's milk mozzarella with a liquid curd center), ricotta di bufala (not a mozzarella, so we passed), authentic mozzarella di bufala from Italy, Bubalu Bubalis (a Southern California buffalo's milk cheese) and cow's milk mozzarella from local favorite Blue Ridge Dairy* (though they're referred to as "Blue Ridge Farms" on the menu).  The sides offered some unique flavors - a green tomato marmalade that was surprisingly chutney-like in its sweetness, a basil-marinated zucchini, and a roasted organic eggplant were all tasty and basic.  And although the 'fresh, seasonal tomato' was a bit underwhelming, it still managed to convey far more bite and flavor than many of the tomatoes currently available at local markets.

Centro_3 After our mozzarella sampling (which confirmed our love of burrata and the distinct difference in texture and taste between cow's milk mozzarella and buffalo's milk varieties), we tried some options from the rest of the menu.  My wife enjoyed the soup of the day, a gazpacho whose vegetables were so finely pureed and silky-smooth as to make us think that she was being served something with a cream base.  She also had a simple salad of butter lettuce, gorgonzola dolce and a lemon-oil dressing that allowed each of its components to show through to the best of their ability.  I opted for a pasta dish, choosing the orecchiette with ground sausage, air-dried ricotta and broccoli rabe.  The dish was sauced with a combination of a broccoli rabe pesto and a creamy 'deconstruction' of the sausage that gave it a wonderfully smoky and complex flavor without the usually oily texture that accompanies this kind of dish.  It was a really impressive presentation that reminded me of some very traditional favorite dishes but that took things in a more elegant direction.  Though the dessert menu seemed to offer a number of Italian restaurant staples, it also highlighted a few more "assaggi" choices - tastings of chocolate, sorbet, gelati, and biscotti.  We didn't take advantage of any of these, choosing to save them for future visits.

Throughout our meal, service was attentive and knowledgeable.  Questions were answered with confidence by Stephan, our waiter, and he seemed genuinely interested in hearing our thoughts on the food we had eaten.  When a discrepancy between the menu price of our mozzarella tasting and the price that appeared on our bill was pointed out, he remedied it without argument and thanked us for bringing it to his attention.

Our biggest disappointment came from the fact that the vaunted mozzarella bar is not yet functional.  Its two marble countertops stand at the ready, with glass cubicles that will provide temperature and humidity controlled storage for the signature cheeses as well as a high-end slicer that will prepare imported Italian prosciutto to order.  But the Big Cheese himself, the man who will oversee the cheese program for the restaurant, has not yet taken his position behind the counters.  For now, the cheeses are stored and prepared behind the scenes, in the kitchen.

I look forward to a second visit to Assaggi in the near future, both to experience the mozzarella bar in action and to see how the rest of the menu continues to develop.  As a first look, however, this experience was definitely a good start.

Assaggi Restaurant
4838 Bethesda Ave.
Bethesda, MD  20814
MAP
(301) 951-1988

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* - It seems that there was some confusion about the provenance of the local mozzarella being served at Assaggi during the first few weeks of service.  When I asked my server and then called a few days later to ask about the mozzarella that had been served to me, I was told both times that the cow's milk cheese came from "Blue Ridge Farms...Blue Ridge Creamery," that they take deliveries every few days and that Blue Ridge sells their mozzarella at local farmers' markets as well.  But I spoke to Paul Stephan of Blue Ridge at the Dupont Farmers' Market that weekend, and he assured me that he had not sold any mozzarella to Assaggi in at least three weeks. 

Blueridge When I spoke to chef/owner Domenico Cornacchia this week, he confirmed to me that they had not been stocking the Blue Ridge mozzarella for a few weeks while they waited for the mozzarella bar to come on line.  But he assured me (and Paul Stephan confirmed) that they are now bringing Blue Ridge products - including ricotta and smoked mozarella - on a regular basis.  Because the menus had been pre-printed, they continued to list the Blue Ridge product during its absence, but Cornacchia told me that staff had been informed that it was unavailable and that they were offering an Italian cow's milk cheese in its place.  My experience suggests that the message wasn't uniformly received.

Is this inherently problematic?  Only if you're truly passionate about cheese and eager to know what you're eating and where it comes from.  The mozzarella they served was definitely delicious, but it was not the local product I thought I was getting.


Mia's Pizzas

Margherita_at_mias_pizza It's rare that I find myself writing about pizza and Bethesda, or even all of Montgomery County. It's almost as if pizza is a four-letter word out there, but I think Mia's Pizzas in Bethesda is a refreshing addition of the DC metro pizza scene.

For those of you that love 2 Amy's or Pizzeria Paradiso, you'll feel right at home at Mia's. The menu incorporates the good things from both and adds a slightly suburban touch for the kids. I used my son's presence as an excuse to order a "little mac 'n cheese", which I really wanted for myself. Upon first tasting, it came off as bland, which actually made it perfect for my 2 year old. Then I added a hefty portion of crushed red pepper and salt and it was perfect. This is by far the cheesiest mac 'n cheese I've eaten in a while. Kraft don't have nuthin' on this.

Pic0089Be warned that the crostini appetizer, which is often on the special menu, is not like your typical crostini. Don't expect little crispy toasts with spoonfuls of toppings on them because it's closer to a salad than anything else. The homemade focaccia is the basis of the crostini, which I don't find to be particularly good bread and can be bought on its own for $2.50 with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and hot pepper for dipping.

If you're actually in the mood for a salad, there are many well presented options to choose from at Mia's Pizzas. The mozzarella, tomato, and basil salad is nothing original, but is very well executed. Slices of ripe yellow and red Roma tomatoes are the highlight of this dish with the addition of sweet heirloom grape tomatoes, peppery arugula, balsamic vinegar, and of course, fresh mozzarella. On a recent trip to the grocery store I tried to reproduce this salad.  $5 for the mozzarella cheese, $2.50 Pic0090 for the arugula, $3 for the basil, $5 for the tomatoes, $10 for some balsamic vinegar, and $10 for some halfway decent extra virgin olive oil. $35 later, I was wishing I drove to Mia's and spent the $6.50 instead (although I'd made enough for 6 or so people to eat, but there's only Amy, Noah and I, and Noah's not much into mozzarella cheese...or tomatoes...or just about anything lately).

One of these days I'll go into how cursed I am because my son is one of the pickiest eaters on the planet.

On to the main event...the pizza. I'm surprised that I was able to even stomach the idea of eating pizza after my recent trip to New York. For me, pizza is all about the crust. You could use the freshestPhoto mozzarella cheese, great sauce from San Marzano tomatoes, but if the crust tastes like white toast, you're worthless in my opinion.

Mia's Pizzas has a nice chewy crust which at times can be a little thicker than I like, but it has a good yeasty flavor. The cooks have a tendency to leave a thick ring of uncovered crust around the edge which can be disappointing. The toppings and sauce are very good quality and tasty. My favorite toppings are the salami, pepperoni, and hot peppers, but I have yet to try them all.

I'm probably a much tougher judge of pizza after eating some of the best pizza in the world on my NYC trip, but Mia's pizza could use a longer cook time as could most pizza that comes out of a wood oven, so if you're like me and you like your pizza with a nice ring of char, then ask for it well done. Usually I just order the Margherita with a couple toppings, if any at all, because it really doesn't need any. Some of the pre-configured pizzas are good too, like the Il Forno or Jorge's Inferno, so give them a try too.

If you're not in the mood for pizza you can order a meatball sub instead, but ask for an extra couple spoonfuls of sauce to keep it from being dry. The meatballs themselves are good enough to eat on their own which you can have if you order the appetizer portion (and you'll notice just about everyone does in fact order that).

Pic0120_2 At Mia's in Bethesda, I was brought instantly back 25 years to my childhood in Connecticut, picking fresh strawberries with my mom and brother and then returning home to slice them and to put them on top of the warm, fluffy biscuits my mom had made when I ate the strawberry shortcake. It was on the specials menu at the time, and I've had good luck with all of the special desserts. My son goes gaga for the homemade cupcakes, which you'll notice (mostly) only the kids are eating. They're very dense and heavy and not fluffy like you'd expect. Nevertheless, we'll always be ordering one.

Mia's Pizzas
4926 Cordell Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
Map
(301) 718-6427
www.miaspizzasbethesda.com

Details:
Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Street. Bethesda is good for parking Sun. through Thurs. but Friday and Saturday (when the valets come out) your only option is the garages. Either way, make sure you bring lots of quarters for the meters.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Bethesda
Reservations: Not Taken.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 3 diapers. Plenty of high chairs, bathrooms with plenty of room, crayons and a not so quiet dining room make this an ideal dining location with children.
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Clean and dependable.


Black's Bar and Kitchen

I wish I could pay the oyster shuckers at Black's Bar and Kitchen to be my own personal oyster shuckers. They have this way of shucking the oyster perfectly every time. I've had three dozen oysters there, and so far, not a single one has done anything but slide off the shell into my mouth without the least bit of prying.

The oysters at Black's Bar and Kitchen are definitely the way to go, especially the kusshis, which have become my favorite oysters since trying them at Black's for the first time. They're thick and meaty, but amazingly tender and go down easy because they're small. My favorite wine to drink with them is the Muscadet which conveniently is the cheapest wine by the glass, but complements the salty flavor of the oysters well because it's not too sweet and citrusy. Sometimes, I wish I'd just ordered three or four dozen of them and called it a night.

I've only ever sat at the spacious bar at Black's Bar and Kitchen where the atmosphere is fun and the bartenders quick to keep your glass full. Why would you sit anywhere else than the bar at a place like Black's? They have two bartenders at the bar, so the service is very quick. I was lucky to be served by Mike each time I was there (I hope he won't mind me mentioning him here, but I always feel compelled to talk about someone specific when I receive exceptional service from them.) You'll recognize him because he's the big jovial guy on the left side that treats everyone like his best buddy.

Black's Bar and Kitchen is the sister restaurant to Blacksalt, which has always been one of my favorite seafood places. Where Blacksalt has a tendency to pair their seafood with a heavily flavored sauce, Black's Bar and Kitchen takes a subtler approach to their dishes, leaving the quality of the ingredients to speak for themselves, but unfortunately, that's not always enough.

The seafood dishes that I've tried came off a little bland although, for those that like a good, honest seared tuna, Black's is a good choice. When you get past the slightly bitter flavor of the cocoa and black pepper crusting, the cut of tuna is superb and perfectly cooked -- almost cool in the middle and just the way it should be. The crispy whole fish, on the other hand, left me disappointed. There wasn't much meat on the bones of the fish and the citrus flavored sauce it was served with didn't do the trick for me. I think when I return, I'll just order the a la carte seafood like the organic salmon with a simple lemon herb sauce.

Once the aphrodisiac from the oysters wears off, you might want to refill with either the mint julep or chocolate trio, both of which have a month's worth of chocolate servings. The first is a warm, oozy chocolate lava cake with refreshing homemade mint ice cream that I liked very much. The latter, a combination of three rich chocolate desserts: two small chocolate ice cream sandwiches, a thin fallen chocolate souffle, and chocolate panna cotta. All three are very rich, but the chocolate ice cream sandwiches are the best, especially when eaten with the sparkling red dessert wine (the exact name escapes me) that's available on the menu by the glass and just happened to be on the house that night because "we looked like we were having a good time". Thank you Mike!

As I mentioned before, the Muscadet is probably the best deal for wines on the menu, but other than that, the wines on the menu are generally pretty expensive. Black's offers a good deal of wines by the glass and two different options for pours -- a 3 oz. or 6.5 oz pour. the 6.5 oz pours which is basically a normal glass that you can get anywhere else can go up to $15. I'd avoid glasses and just order a bottle.  I'll spare you the rant about the Montgomery County liquor board and just say in Black's defense that it's a lot easier for a restaurant in DC or Virginia to have a quality, low-priced wine list.

Black's Bar and Kitchen
7750 Woodmont Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814
Map
(301) 652-5525
www.blacksbarandkitchen.com

Details:
Hours: See web site
Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: Street
Closest Metro: Bethesda
Reservations: Taken and recommended. Bar and cafe are first come first serve
Baby-Child friendly rating: 3 diapers. There are actually a good deal of families that go to Black's and I've even seen people with their children in the cafe/bar, which is non-smoking.


Haandi's Buffet

Lately, one of my favorite things to do on the weekend is to go to Haandi in Bethesda for their lunch buffet. The last two weekends, I've managed to get there on either a Saturday or Sunday, and both times it was a very good experience. The most impressive thing about the buffet is that they bring out fresh naan for you. Rather than bring out bunches of naan and let it sit there under a heat lamp, they make it fresh and they refill it when you run out. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather have fresh made bread instead of the rubbery naan that you get at most Indian buffets.

The other thing I really like about Haandi's buffet is the variety of dishes. You don't find butter chicken or bland dishes on the buffet, but rather you can get dishes malai kofta with spicy cheese and potato dumplings in a thick masala curry, or baigan bartha with diced eggplant cooked in a tandoor oven serviced with a mixture of vegetables and five-spice curry. In fact, this is one of the few Indian restaurants where I really enjoy to eat vegetarian. They also regularly have a minced lamb and herb (or seekh) kabab and some pretty tasty rice pudding to finish off the meal.

The cost of the buffet on the weekends is $11.99 -- a great deal considering, and it's never very crowded which is really a shame considering the quality of the food in the buffet. I've never been to the buffet during the week, though. I'd imagine that the lunch crowd during the week is heavier, plus it's only $8.99 -- perhaps someone can leave a comment speaking to the quality of the selection of dishes during the week vs. the weekend.

Haandi
4904 Fairmont Ave
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 718-0121

1222 W Broad St
Falls Church, VA 22046
(703) 533-3501


David Craig

I have a new favorite Contemporary American restaurant in Bethesda, and it's called David Craig. Amy and I visited David Craig Restaurant in Bethesda last Sunday and everything was excellent so let me tell you about our meal.

I'd say that Sunday is the ideal time to go to David Craig, at least based on our experience there. The restaurant wasn't too crowded when we arrived at 8 PM and the atmosphere was calm and relaxing. About three other tables were full. We were seated in the back where there's a window that allows diners to see the kitchen and watch the cooks prepare the food. I tried not to stare.

Our server told us that the menu that night was new and it was the first time for the kitchen preparing the food. We would never have known unless we were told. My first dish was a simple but artfully prepared Caesar salad that was topped with a whole fresh anchovy (about the size of a sardine). There was nothing revolutionary in this salad considering it cost $11, but it still tasted great. I purposely didn't order the oyster stew because that's what everyone else has written about, but when I go back, I really want to order the arugula salad which just sounds incredible.

The second best dish of the night had to be the tuna carpacio (at least that's what I call it). Take thinly sliced tuna, combine it with Japanese mustard greens (also known as mizuna), a wild mushroom salad (I spied trumpet mushrooms), and top with a red wine vinaigrette and a little wasabi, and you have yourself quite a little appetizer.

I love a good pasta dish(which like all the pastas is available in a double portion as an entree), and the hand-cut fettuccine with a slightly creamy and cheesy meat and mushroom sauce was just heavenly -- the best dish of the night by far and probably one of the best pasta dishes I've had in a while. I'd call the sauce a ragu, except I don't think there was any tomatoes in it. I was supposed to share this dish with Amy, but somehow I only managed to let her have a single bite.

The lobster, fava bean, and sun dried tomato Vialone risotto that Amy had was interesting -- not drop-dead incredible, but interesting. When I first tried it, I thought the texture of the rice was odd, and not quite that of a risotto that I was used to, but that was only because of my own ignorance. Once I returned home, I Googled "Vialone" and found out that "Vialone Nano" rice is another type of risotto rice that is a longer grain rice than Arborio. Unlike Amy, who's unable to contain herself if it's on the menu, I'm not a lobster lover, and not surprisingly, I thought the texture of the lobster was odd, but Amy thought it was perfect.

While we waited for our entrees to come out, I looked jealously at a gigantic whole roasted Loup de Mar as one of the servers brought it to one of the tables near us.

"Jesus, I wish you would look at me like that once in a while," Amy said.

"Sorry. Sometimes I just can't control myself," I replied smugly.

My entree was exquisite -- I can't remember when I've eaten better braised veal cheeks. The texture of the meat was perfect, not too dry and not too moist. I've had veal cheeks that were overly moist and almost undercooked, or overcooked and dry. These were neither. Amy's beef tenderloin would have been pretty average if it wasn't for the creamy Gorgonzola flan, an atypical twist on the usual blue cheese topping.

Our server was very unobtrusive. At one point after we'd finished out entrees, the waiter started to come over to clear our plates and ask us how everything was, but Amy and I were in the middle of a conversation so he turned around and went back in the kitchen. He was also very knowledgeable about wine, aware that the wine maker from vineyard that produces the wine we ordered (Savannah-Chanelle Vineyard), had been to the restaurant recently. Hmm, the wine maker's name happens to be Tony Craig...I wonder if there's a connection??

I wasn't crazy about the chocolate bread pudding what we had for dessert, but I'm very picky about bread pudding (perhaps I should just stop ordering it). While the ice cream that came on the side was a wonderfully sweet and creamy accompaniment, that bread pudding was kind of crumbly.

Our bill came to about $200 before tip -- a little expensive, but considering that we had three courses each, shared a dessert, and drank a fairly expensive bottle of wine, and coffees, I think it was a pretty decent deal considering the quality of food we ate. I'm definitely planning on returning to try the other dishes on the menu.

David Craig
4924 St. Elmo Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814
Map
(301) 657-2484
Web Site

Details:
Corkage: Call.
Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: Street: Street Parking and Bethesda Parking garages.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: A short walk from the Bethesda metro.
Reservations: Taken.
Baby friendly rating: 2 Diapers mainly because Amy noticed that they have child seats. Otherwise, I'd be very hesitant to bring Noah here because the atmosphere is quiet and therefore not baby friendly.


Jaleo

Recently, I found myself in Bethesda with Amy and Noah. It was the middle of the afternoon and we hadn't eaten lunch yet (God, this sounds like just about every Saturday since Noah's been born). Originally, we intended to go to Divino Lounge but once we parked the car, got Noah out of the car, and walked around the corner...oh crap. They're closed. Son of a...!!

"Way to check their hours Jase...What else is around here?" Amy asked.

Man she gets grumpy when she's hungry. Kind of like me.

I thought about our options for a couple minutes. I was obviously taking to long, because Amy suddenly suggested that we go to Jaleo.

The last time we went to Jaleo, we had a pretty mediocre meal and I was hesitant. It's amazing how one bad meal will do that and so many people, including myself, will write off a place after one semi-bad experience, but we decided to give them another chance regardless.

The good news is everything was very good that afternoon (and the following Saturday night as well), unlike most tapas restaurants, where half the dishes your order end up being boring. My favorite tapa (geez I ate that word) was the duck confit, which is by far, one of the best deals that Jaleo has to offer at $7.50, with a very large duck leg that seems to never end. Sadly, it's on their "temporary" menu, so get it while its still on the menu.  Other amazing tapas include the homemade grilled pork sausage with white beans thats salty and well seasoned, grilled sirloin with sherry sauce, or some sinful béchamel chicken and Spanish ham fritters.

The only dish I had that I wasn't crazy about was a surprisingly bland Chorizo sausage. Seriously, Chef Andrés, spice this up a bit. No not a bit, a lot! I mean, chorizo is supposed to be spicy, right?  So the menu is still a bit hit or miss. Another disappointment was the pork rib that was almost completely fat. We sent that one back it was so bad.

During our afternoon visit, service was very smooth and we couldn't really ask for more. When we returned again the following Saturday, things weren't quite as smooth, which I remembered from our previous experience at Jaleo. That evening, despite the fact that the service was very rushed, which is understandable, considering how crowded the restaurant was, the kitchen continued to bang out dish after dish.

As far as the wine list goes, there are many options all across the different price ranges, which I can appreciate because I don't always feel like dropping $60 on a bottle of wine. Glasses at the bar are reasonable as well. The slightly tart, yet fruity, Albarino that Amy and I had at the bar was only $8 a glass.

It's easy to get carried away at Jaleo, which can easily be considered a cheap eats restaurant, but also can break the bank if you order a ton of tapas and a more expensive bottle of wine. I can appreciate that though, because it means you have the flexibility to make what you want of the meal. All of our bills were under $100.

Jaleo
480 7th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Map
(202) 628-7949   

7271 Woodmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
Map
(301) 913-0003

2250 A Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA 22202
Map
(703) 413-8181

Web Site

Hours:
See Web Site

Dress Code: Business Casual to Casual
Reservations: Taken.
Baby friendly rating: 2 Diapers


Las Margaritas Bar and Grill

Dsc00147About eight months ago, I went to Costa Del Sol for the first time -- or what I thought was Costa Del Sol. The place was in shambles -- the carpets were dirty and ceiling tiles were hanging from the ceiling, but the food was good. The pupusas were especially good (I've developed a very large appreciation for pupusas over the last couple years) and these were good enough to compete with those of Samantha's.

On my return trip a month later, the restaurant looked completely different. All ceiling tiles were securely in place and the carpet had been cleaned. Another detail I noticed was that the owners had decorated the walls and added a little ambiance. Tables were adorned with tablecloths, candles, and new handmade menus, giving it a nice, family-owned restaurant feel.

It turned out that the restaurant was under new ownership, but the kitchen staff still remained. I was happy to hear this, because in my prior trip, I really enjoyed the food. Bethesda really needs a Mexican/Savadoran place like this, amidst the mediocre burritos and fajitas at Rio Grande Cafe and Austin Grill, where people wait an hour in line -- for what, only God knows. Meanwhile, places like Las Margaritas stay empty. On my last visit, I saw the most occupied tables since I've been there -- five.

Dsc00146In my later trips to Las Margaritas, I branched out beyond the pupusas and tried their entrees, ordering masitas de puerco (my new yardstick for judging Salvadoran restaurants). It's tender pork with a tangy Salvadoran citrus sauce with fresh black beans and rice. It's a yummy, homey dish that's sure to please.

There are several tenderloin tip entrees on the menu as well, with the beef always tender and flavorful. And of course, don't miss the pupusas.

One thing to avoid is a beef taco salad which starts out good, but ends up being a little bland towards the end. Also, watch out for semi-stale tortilla chips. I haven't had a chance to try their standard Tex-Mex fare like burritos, chimichangas and enchiladas, but something tells me that it will be better than what you can get at a place like Rio Grande.

Service at Las Margaritas is always good (although there isn't usually a crowd to cause the waitstaff trouble), but the servers and hosts have always been very hospitable and friendly. Las Margaritas is cheap too. For the two of us, we usually get out for under $40 with a few beers.

So if you're in Bethesda catching a flick or you're just passing through, take a chance and walk a little further to Las Margaritas.

Las Margaritas Bar and Grill
4906 Fairmont Ave
Bethesda, MD 20814
Map
(301) 656-2561

Dress Code: Casual
Smoking: Not Allowed
Closest Metro: Bethesda
Parking: Street parking in Bethesda is a pain in the ass. No valet. If you're lucky you can find a spot on the street or in one of the lots.
Reservations: No need
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Charming and clean. Like a little powder room at somebody's house.


Faryab

On Friday night at about 7 PM, Amy and I made a last minute decision to go out for dinner. We called around to a couple places to make reservations and we didn't have any luck. Finally, I was like, "I want Afghan!" Looking on The Post Dining Guide, I saw Tom S's review of Faryab in Bethesda. Overall, he said that the food was really good, but the service was lacking and inattentive. I figured we would try it anyway.

When going to a restaurant on Cordell Ave in Bethesda, you can save yourself a lot or time by skipping the overly crowded Cordell Ave parking garage and going one block further to Del Ray, where the lot us usually empty. After we parked, I was tempted to stop in and say hello to Chef Sudhir at Passage to India, but he was nowhere in sight when we walked by. Faryab only a few steps from my favorite Indian restaurant.

When we walked in Faryab, I noticed that the hosted was extremely friendly. She greeted us with a huge, "Welcome! Two for dinner?!" We were seated and immediately someone stopped by to see if we wanted something to drink. They have plenty of servers, expeditors, and bussers there to wait on you. Our waitress, a sweet, Asian woman with glasses that reminded me of the ones my grandmother used to wear, came over quickly after we sat down and asked us if we wanted something to drink. The manager was constantly walking around checking that everyone was happy as well. All around, the owners have hung Afghan artifacts and pictures. The atmosphere was a bit brighter than most restaurants I've been to lately and there was a lot of space so I didn't feel like I was right on top of the table next to us.

The menu at Faryab is very similar that of Afghan Grill in Adams Morgan except the list of appetizers was quite a bit larger and more interesting. One appetizer that we found particularly interesting was the deep fried, breaded sweet potatoes with small amounts of yogurt and meat sauces. The meat sauce reminded me of a stewed meat - it was slightly spicy and tasted like it had chili seasoning in it. I did note that there was more breading than sweet potato, but I didn't that mind too much. It was probably only five minutes after we ordered our appetizer that it appeared at our table.

The wine list was disappointingly small. There were only a few bottles each of red and white. The only wines available by glass were the house wines. Instead, I ordered a beer since I can't drink a whole bottle of wine on my own now that Amy is pregnant.

Shortly after we were done with out appetizer, the waitress came and took the plate away. Soon after that, our entrees came out. I'd ordered the Quabili Pallow which is a delicately seasoned lamb with spiced brown rice, raisins and shaved carrots. When they first brought it to the table, it looked like they'd forgotten the lamb and simply brought be a giant plate of rice. Once I put my fork in the rice though, I realized that there really was more lamb than rice on the plate. The moist, tender lamb was buried in the rice. The rice, seasoned with many spices, was a little dryer than I like. This was quickly forgotten when I mixed it with the shaved carrots and raisins.         

Amy had the chicken kabob (Kabob-e-Murgh) which I have to say tasted extremely good. I think I prefer the Afghan version of kabobs over any other ethnic food. Similar kabobs that you get at an Indian restaurant tend to be drier where the tandoor oven has a tendency to dry the meat out. The kabobs at Faryab, on the other hand, are cooked in a way that leaves the meat very tender and full of flavor. I asked the manager how they seasoned their kabobs and he said that they marinate them for 24 hours in olive oil, garlic, pepper, and tumeric (which explains the slightly yellow tint of the chicken).

On top of the two entrees, I ordered a side of Kadu which (if you remember from my review of Afghan Grill) is saut‚ed pumpkin. This is definitely one of the more interesting dishes you can order at an Afghan restaurant. The pumpkin at Faryab was kept slightly firm and wasn't overcooked, which I appreciated. I noticed that they must add a little sugar to the pumkin since it was a little on the sweeter side. Like our appetizer, the Kadu came with meat and yogurt sauces drizzled over it.

Our experience at Faryab was very pleasant. The service was amicable and smooth. I imagine that after Tom Sietsema's review, they made a conscious effort to change the vobe that their wait staff was exhibiting. All of the food was excellent. I'm looking forward to returning to try some of the other dishes I saw on the menu like their sambosas or Mantu - steamed dumplings filled with ground beef and onions, served with yogurt and meat sauces. Our check came to about $57 before tip, which was very reasonable considering the quality of the overall experience we had.

Faryab
4917 Cordell Ave
Bethesda, MD
Map
(301) 951-3484

Parking: Street parking available, no valet
Reservations: Taken although probably not needed
Smoking: not allowed
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Spotless
Nearest Metro: Bethesda