Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Where to Eat: Two Chain Restaurants Worth Trying

Maybe it's because I grew up in a small city. Or maybe it's because my family has been in the restaurant business for as long as I can remember. Either way, I have an issue going to chain restaurants.*

I like knowing that the chef has carefully prepared his menu to reflect the ambiance and originality of his one and only unique restaurant. That I am experiencing something original, rather than sharing the same culinary experience as someone across town or across the country.

But, there are exceptions to every rule, and I've been proven wrong by the two quasi-chain restaurants in the D.C. area listed below.

Cava Mezze

Cava has three locations-- Clarendon, 8th Street SE, and Rockville-- and offers a large variety of Greek tapas. And by Greek tapas I mean delicious, mouthwatering dishes that you can share. The dim lighting, dark wood, and rustic design are sexy yet welcoming at the same time. It is the perfect atmosphere for a first date, a third date, or a date with your best friend.

One of my favorite dishes is the flaming cheese that the server lights on fire table side. I also recommend the dip tasting--- which includes small portions of hummus, tzatziki, roasted eggplant, feta, and grape leaves. The meat dishes are delicious and packed with flavor. The lamb meatballs and the chicken pitas are two of my favorites.

As for drinks, the wine menu is packed full of variety and options. A good friend of mine prefers the mojitos, which she says only takes two to get you to fall on your face when you walk out of the restaurant (and, yes, this actually happened to her-- and she has the scar on her face to prove it).

Capital Grille

Fact: I would eat a medium rare steak every single night for dinner if I could. But, alas, my waist line, cholesterol and wallet would not be happy. That said, when I do want a delicious piece of red meat, my favorite spot is Capital Grille on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The steaks are flavorful and always served to perfection. And the sides. Oh, the sides. Creamed spinach? Yum. Lobster mac and cheese? Yes, please. The other thing I love about Capital Grille (and all you judgers, get ready to start judging) is the clientele and overall feel. It's kind of cool to sit at a table next to a Congressman, or run into the Under-Secretary of some important department. Call me pretentious, but sometimes it's fun to be surrounded by all the wheelers and dealers in D.C. And you definitely get that experience at Capital Grille.

There you go-- two chain restaurants worth checking out, because no matter the location you will get a unique culinary experience.

* The only two chains that break this mold are: Ruby Tuesday's (salad bar) and Olive Garden (because, c'mon, it's Olive Garden).

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Where to Brunch: Jazz Brunches in D.C.

Want to feel peppy and great about life on this drizzly, gray day? Take a listen to this in your government-issue cubicle:

Something about that jazz, the harmonious blending of the trumpet, trombone, bass and clarinet really puts that bounce back in your step, doesn't it? Perhaps that's why jazz music is such an entertainment trend for the boozy brunches the District's hungover masses schlep themselves to each Sunday morning (OK, early afternoon).

And more than that, in addition to cheering you up the day after an alcohol downward spiral, D.C.'s jazz brunches seem to also offer some of the best brunch deals.

Here are a few jazz brunches you can check out this weekend:

Acadiana, 901 New York Ave. NW

Every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., this New Orleans-style restaurant features live jazz bands and a $29 three-course brunch menu with $2 blood orange mimosas or Cajun Marys. The service is impeccable, and while I've had hit-or-miss options during dinner at Acadiana, the brunch has been pretty spot on.

Louisiana Crawfish Etouffee (above) and Southern Shrimp & Grits

Acadiana also serves complimentary butter biscuits with this jalapeno cream cheese spread that is just TO DIE FOR. Sooooo good.

Beacon Bar & Grill, 1615 Rhode Island Ave. NW

A Beacon omelet
The price for the jazz brunch at this restaurant in the Beacon Hotel in Dupont Circle has slowly crept upwards over the last few years, but it's still a good deal: For $34.95 a person, you get access to a buffet with unlimited champagne, mimosas and bloody Marys. Not gonna lie: I got tanked with my grandparents here a few years back. Or, alongside my grandparents, rather; they're teetotalers.

Georgia Brown's, 950 15th St. NW

This is the most expensive option on the list at $40.95 per person and drinks NOT included, but there's a reason for that: You get access to a savory buffet, a sweet buffet AND they load you up with an entire entree. Most people end up taking that part home for dinner -- it's just too much in one sitting.

Brunch buffet offerings
Georgia Brown's has one of the best live jazz bands, too.

M Street Bar and Grill, 2033 M St. NW

M Street Bar and Grill has been a recent discovery for me, but I'm pretty impressed at the deal: From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., you can get unlimited mimosas, bellinis and champagne and a three-course brunch for $26.95 a person. The BF and I tried it out this weekend, and we were impressed/satiated.

Cinnamon-raisin French toast
The one thing I will say as a negative was that the jazz music was a woman with an electric keyboard playing elevator-music-style renditions of songs like "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," which was ridiculously cheesy, but whatever -- we stuffed ourselves and got tipsy regardless.

That's it! Hopefully this entry has made you think feel like this:

In brunch we trust,

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Take a Day Trip From D.C.: Baltimore

This blog post is going to recommend something I would ordinarily eschew: traveling to Maryland. I normally keep my gallivanting confined to the District or Northern Virginia. I'm sure there are parts of Maryland that are lovely; I just haven't found them yet.

Well, I hadn't found them, that is. Or at least, I hadn't recognized that I'd found them, despite trip after trip up to Baltimore to visit my sister. But after spending a delightful day there this past weekend and having eaten some absolutely incredible meals there over the last few weeks, I'm changing my tune: Our sister city to the north is a phenomenal place to take an easy day trip from D.C.


For a quick, cheap-but-filling meal, stop by Thairish, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it hole in the wall located on Charles Street in Baltimore's Mount Vernon Square neighborhood.

It's a family-run spot that's reminiscent of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi: No substitutions, no alterations, get in line and get out. But, oh man -- you will be glad you did. My notoriously picky/constantly upset to her stomach sister swears by their pad thai. When she took me there, I ordered the chicken panang and had my MIND BLOWN. The sauce was thicker than I'm generally used to, but so amazingly flavorful. And the chicken -- the CHICKEN!!! -- the chicken was more succulent and juicy than any chicken I've had in recent memory. And I eat a lot of chicken.

For a more expensive/nice meal, the recently opened Of Love and Regret will not let you down. I'll admit, the gastropub is located on a somewhat seedy-looking street in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood, but anytime something is billed as a "gastropub," nothing can stop me from chowing down there.

Additionally, what's super cool about this place is how uniquely Baltimorean it is: Of Love and Regret takes its name from a Belgian Saison Ale brewed by Stillwater Artisanal Ales, a Baltimore microbrewery whose entire catalog of tasty beer is featured on the restaurant's many taps.

The beer was amazing, and the food was even better. My dining compatriot (dare I say it: new boyfriend?) and I shared the duck confit mac n' cheese, and it rocked my face off!


While Baltimore doesn't boast the same bevy of tourist activities that D.C. does, it does have a few things worth seeing.

For starters, check out the USS Constellation, a warship that was commissioned in 1855, drydocked in 1894, and revamped and opened to the public many years later. It's now permanently docked in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

The Constellation sailed during the Civil War, so for the amateur historians out there, it's definitely worth the $11 price of admission.

Also in the Inner Harbor is the National Aquarium, which is WAY BETTER than the D.C. aquarium, which is basically a glorified fish tank.

At nearly $30 a person, this is definitely a pricier thing to do in Baltimore, but certainly worth seeing.

Baltimore's only about an hour's drive from D.C. via 295 North, so it's a perfect place to go for a last-minute, unplanned trip. And if you don't have a car, you can still get there: Amtrak tickets from Union Station to Baltimore's Penn Station will run you about $30 round trip, and from there you can use the Charm City Circulator, which is FREE.

Happy Baltimoring, hon!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Dueling Reviews: Appealing Kate and Capital Katie on Hank's Oyster Bar

Appealing Kate and Capital Katie hadn't seen each other in a while and were both craving a lady date, so they made plans to meet up at Hank's Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle for a night of cocktails, girl talk and, of course, oysters! These tandem reviews were the result of their lovely evening:


I had passed Hank's Oyster Bar's Q Street location countless times during my years in D.C., yet I'd never had an opportunity to suck down the slimy sea creatures there. So when Appealing Kate suggested it as a meeting point, I jumped on it.

I think we were both shocked at how nice the place actually is. From tables outside, it appears that it would have a casual -- dare I say "beachy"? -- feel.

On second thought, probably not beachy. But definitely casual.
But once inside the restaurant, it's just as much of an upscale gastropub as Lyon Hall or Boxcar Tavern. My one criticism aesthetically is that Hank's Oyster Bar is not entirely sure what it wants to be design-wise -- it has one back room that looks like it's straight out of a K Street Lounge, and an upstairs that has a nautical feel. There's no coherence from room to room.

Hank's upstairs
Hank's back room

But at the end of the day, none of that matters if the food and service are good, right? Hank's was packed the night we went, so our server was a little overworked, but was generally attentive/kind regardless. He was brutally honest with me when I asked about a drink called "the Corpse Reviver" ("It's AWFUL," he deadpanned), which I appreciated.

I ordered the lobster roll, which Appealing Kate assured me was Maine-authentic (served on a buttered up hotdog-type bun) and which was exquisitely flavorful. We also shared oysters, which our server was helpful enough to choose for us since we knew nothing about what we were ordering in that department. I'll be the first to admit I'm not an oyster connoisseur, but they tasted alright to me.

Would I go back? In a heartbeat!


Prior to Friday, I had not seen Katie in, gasp, two months, so I was really looking forward to catching up with my good friend. When she suggested that we find a place neither of had been before, I thought Hank's Oyster Bar might be fun to try.

As we walked in, I told Katie that when I mentioned to Matt from Third Date Cooking we were going to Hank's he gave it great reviews.  Katie responded "Oh, I'm sure we will like it then. I trust Matt's opinion." And, yes, I am mentioning this so that Matt will cook me dinner this weekend.

Hank's is modern yet comfortable. Sort of "fancy Malibu ocean side restaurant meets Cape Cod seafood shack." The combo works perfectly to create a cozy, eclectic, sophisticated space.

The place was packed. Luckily, we called ahead of time to add our name to the wait list, because when we arrived the hostess told the party of four in front of us it would be a two hour wait.

Katie and I ordered drinks at the bar while we waited for our table. We both ordered the Hanky Panky (strong, refreshing and delicious). The cute bartender was attentive and flirty.

We were seated about 45 minutes later, and our server was friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. We decided to split an order of oysters, because, well, we were at Hank's Oyster Bar. We tried three different varieties.  They werrreeeee tasty.

For dinner, I ordered two appetizers--- the grilled crab cake and the tuna tartar. Both were in-friggin-credible. Katie ordered the lobster roll, and let me tell you---it sure did look exactly how a Maine lobster roll should look. Well done, Hanks, well done.

crab cake appetizer
Maine lobster roll and fries
We took a mini tour of the restaurant after dinner, because it has multiple dining rooms. Each was completely unique from the others. One is modern like a NYC lounge, one beachy and simple. The third (where we sat) felt like an open and airy New England dining room.

Overall, Hank's is a great spot with delicious food and friendly staff. The atmosphere creates the perfect locale for a romantic date, a group gathering, or a Friday night dinner with a good friend.

You should go there immediately. Just remember to call ahead because Hank's does not take reservations.

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Places in D.C. You're Not Frequenting, But you TOTALLY Should Be

On a recent Saturday night, I was out with Jules and some of her friends for a U Street bar crawl. We traipsed up and down the street, waiting for a spot to reveal itself as the ideal place for booze, conversation and, of course, the menz. We eventually turned the corner onto 14th Street and spotted a line emerging from a bar, wending its way halfway down the block. We tiptoed closer to see where it led: El Centro D.F.

I was skeptical, but a million and one Washingtonians itching to get into this bar couldn't be wrong, could they? We joined the crowd waiting in the chilly winter air to get inside for margaritas.

And we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The line was moving SO slowly and the bar was letting so few people in that eventually, we just gave up! And the whole time, I couldn't help but think to myself: "What friggin' for?!?! My past experience here was utterly disappointing -- I can't imagine it's improved THAT MUCH!!!"

My theory is Richard Sandoval made a deal with the devil to make this a place where people are willing to sacrifice warmth and personal welfare in a 45-minute line for a chance to cross the threshold, but I have no way of proving that.

Instead, here's what I can do. I have recently discovered a few places that are ACTUALLY awesome, and yet there is NO ONE crowding them. Consider the following a list of places you're not going to, but you totally should be:


The address is actually a little misleading -- SUNdeVICH is truly located in an alley off 9th Street in between N and O streets.

Every gourmet sandwich here is named after an international city and is based off the local flavors. For example, the Istanbul has ground beef and lamb, onions, tomato and tzatziki sauce. And holy shit, is it delicious.

It's like a flavor party in my mouth!
SUNdeVICH also features plenty of vegetarian options, so this is a place everyone can agree on. (Dare I say it? I like it better than Taylor Gourmet!)

BURLESQUE BRUNCH: SAX Restaurant and Lounge, 734 11th St. NW

A few weeks ago, I needed a last-minute brunch reservation, and SAX, which had a decent looking menu, had many available reservation spots on OpenTable. I noticed it advertised a burlesque brunch; I sort of figured that dancers would walk around, meeting and greeting diners in costume.

What came next blew my mind: The bar has a gigantic mirror behind it... which lights up every 20 minutes to reveal a stage, where burlesque dancers titillate and tease until the music stops.

I believe they were dancing to "Lady Marmalade"
I have been to several burlesque shows in D.C., and the dancers at SAX are by far the most polished/sexy. I can't say enough good things about the show.

And then, of course, the FOOD -- I had my birthday brunch there this past weekend and ordered the braised short rib, which is served on a bed of grits with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. It was INCREDIBLE -- the perfect blend of breakfast and lunch, sweet and savory.

Perhaps the most incredible thing, however, was how few people were dining there on Sunday. There were large swaths of tables with nobody at them. And for $30 prix fixe per person, the only thing more I can say about SAX is WHY ARE YOU PEOPLE NOT GOING HERE FOR BRUNCH?!

WINE TIME: The Tasting Room Wine Bar, 5330A Western Ave., Chevy Chase

The Gamma Girls got invited to a wine event at this charming little bar in Chevy Chase a few weeks ago, and I was so glad I went. It's low-lit, romantic and, as you can see, it comes with that fancy Enomatic machine that pours individual tastings of wine after you insert a prepaid card. (It's pretty much how I envision the Jetsons getting drunk.)

It's tucked away in a shopping center, so I can see how people would miss it/not realize it's there. But it seems to me like the perfect place for a first date.

There you go, folks, three different places at which you should become a regular. If nothing else, go once and throw some business their way. You'll have a good time, I promise!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Where to Do Stripper Fitness in the District

 Like most typical Washingtonians, I run for exercise. I belong to a gym, but every once in a while the sight of a treadmill depresses me because it makes me feel a bit too much like this:

Round and round we go...
That's when I need to bust out of my routine. Work my muscles in a way I haven't worked them before. Make myself sexy, as well as sweaty. Do something... exotic.
I'm talking, of course, about stripper fitness, which in my definition boils down to workouts where you flex and contort your body like an exotic dancer to in order to burn the calories packed on from too many mimosas at brunch. And despite D.C. being a high-strung, career-driven, buttoned-up city, there are actually quite a few places to get your sexual swerve on:
JORDIN'S PARADISE, 1215 Connecticut Ave. NW, 4th floor
Jordin's Paradise offers a variety of pole-dancing classes as well as chair-dancing classes. I've taken the pole-dancing classes before, and trust me, they are TOUGH. Have you ever tried to support your entire weight by gripping your hands tightly on a metal pole? Your arms will BURN.
Most classes are in the $10-$25 range, and you can also purchase class packages at a discounted rate.
JOY OF MOTION DANCE CENTER, 1333 H St. NE (the Atlas Performing Arts Center)
The Joy of Motion Dance Center offers a variety of classes, but come 8 p.m. on Thursday nights, it's all about sexy dancing. The instructor -- a tall, hot, manly man -- actually teaches the class in spike heels, and students are encouraged to wear heels of their own. You really tone your ass when you're trying to maintain your balance in four-inch pumps. Believe that.
Drop-in classes are $17, and again, you can buy a dance class package.
THE P SPOT, 518 10th St. NE
Despite sounding like a new erogenous zone, The P Spot is another place that offers sexy fitness classes (and has the most unapologetically flashy, hot pink and black website ever. Seriously, I love them for their extensive use of the Alba font.).
Classes include pole dancing, stripping and something called "Bedroom Body." Awesome.
"Bedroom Body"
Hell, I'm all riled up now. Imma go out and get my sexy body on tonight!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Where to Surf and Turf in the District

I recently tried two new (to me) restaurants. One specializes in delicious red meat; the other is known for its fresh seafood. It was a tasty week, and I recommend checking out both places.

First up was turf at Medium Rare.

Upon entering, I thought "now this is my kind of place." Brick walls, simple tables, semi-open kitchen, big windows looking out onto the bustling Connecticut Avenue strip of Cleveland Park. All good things.

Only after we were seated and had ordered a bottle of cozy Cabernet, did I realized that there was no menu. Just steak. And french fries. And wine.  Yup, true story.

The server asked us how we wanted our steak prepared. We both said medium rare (so predicable). Then salads were served. Then the steak and frites came out. Everything was delicious. The meat was cooked perfectly and was tender and flavorful. The french fries were thin and crispy. Then, halfway through the meal, a second serving of each was delivered. 

I didn't know what to do when the second round arrived, because I was already quite full. But, of course, I ate a few more bites, because it was really, really tasty.  We skipped dessert because we were stuffed, but everything we did eat was delicious, and I already want to go back again.

Note: I hear that Medium Rare has a great patio.  I know, I know, that sounds totally unappealing right now, but fast forward a few months...and it will be the perfect spot for some al fresco dining.

The very next night we went to Sea Catch Restaurant and Raw Bar for some surf. 

I'd been to lunch at Sea Catch many of times. Sitting outside on the balcony overlooking the canal in Georgetown? Pretty much the best spot in all of D.C. for some mid-day dining. 

Neither my date nor I had been for dinner before. As we were led to our table, past the stone fireplace, the long wooden bar, and exposed brick walls, I thought that it had a somewhat similar feel to Medium Rare. But when we reached the back dining room, it seemed somewhat dated.

That said, we were sat in a very nice corner booth where we got to cozy up next to each other.

We each ordered salads to start.  Both were fine. For dinner, I ordered the salmon. It was cooked to perfection.  My dinner date ordered the tuna.  It was a bit overcooked, but had some really great flavor.  We ordered a nice bottle of savignon blanc to go with our fish, and the service was great. The maitre d' even checked in on us halfway through dinner to see how everything was. Again, there was no room for dessert. Instead, we opted to grab after dinner drinks next door at Bodega, another quality venue.

There you go. Two spots. One for carnivores. One for fish lovers. Both great.

Happy Thursday!