Restaurant Review: Central Michel Richard

For my birthday dinner, Adam took me to Central.    The restaurant won the 2008 James Beard award for Best New Restaurant, and Chef Richard was one of the first chefs in the country to offer a bistro edition to his classically French “haute cuisine” Citronelle.  I personally enjoy this phenomenon because, as evidenced by this blog, we eat out quite a bit.  My bank account can’t afford $150+ pre fixed menus all the time.  Sometimes you want to enjoy the creations of a chef, without taking out a loan.

After looking at the menu, we decided to begin with soup, and then move onto our entrees.  But wait, what’s this?  Cheese puffs! A dinner that starts with gougères can’t be bad.  Little tiny packages of “crispy on the outside” but “fluffy on the inside” dough and cheese that melt in your mouth.  My only complaint; they came out too close to our soup course.  The soup needed to be enjoyed hot, which caused us to loose some of the enjoyment of eating all the puffs still warm from the oven.

Central Michel Richard

Fried chicken with mashed potato

For the main course, Adam ordered the fried chicken, and I chose the steak tartare.  The chicken was cooked well, with the right balance between moist meat and extra crispy skin and breading.  As with most French chefs, the sauce (chicken gravy in this case) was what made the dish.

I was venturing into new territory with my tartare.  The only tartare I have had before has been seafood.  What I love about those dishes is the fresh taste you get from good ingredients.  My steak tartare was exactly that.  The flavors of a well cooked filet were there, but intensified by the herbs, seasoning, and completely fresh meat.

Central Michel Richard

Tartare of filet mignon and french fries

Our service during the meal was good – we were seated next to a family that knew our server, and it felt like we were having a meal at someone’s home.  Everyone was friendly and engaging, and while we enjoyed the atmosphere, nothing jumped out as exceptional.

The most interesting part of the meal was that Chef Richard spent the evening dining and conducting business in the restaurant a couple tables over.  I didn’t catch what he ordered for dinner, but he and Adam share the same taste in beer.

Central Michel Richard

Blusser Pilsner (U.S. exclusive)

Central Michel Richard on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review: Five Guys

Five Guys

Five Guy's burger and fries.

I know, I know – Five Guys isn’t a secret. But I eat a lot of burgers and Five Guys burgers are really good. So this post is my way of paying homage to one of the best burgers around.

I had my first five guys burger a few months after moving to Washington DC in 2005. I had just finished a 10,000 mile road trip with my friend Jim, during which among other things I had my first In and Out Burger – the Five Guys of the west coast.  The two share many similarities – fresh beef, fresh cut fries, a cult following. So in the span of a few months I had two of the propritedly best chain burgers out there. The verdict?  Well, I love the many great burgers out there at one-of-a-kind restaurants like Spike’s Good Stuff Eatery, Red Rabbit, etc.  And although In and Out Burger has animal sauce and milkshakes, Fives Guys wins for me.

Burgers can be ordered as a little or regular, with or without bacon and cheese.  Toppings are free and unlimited, including lettuce, tomato, onion, grilled onions, mushrooms, ketchup, mayonase, mustard, steak sauce, BBQ sauce, and I’m sure a few more.  Burgers are grilled when ordered, and wrapped in tin foil. Fries come sm and lg, with sm being large and the lg being huge – enough for at least two to three people. I suggest getting the Cajun fries.  Because everything is cooked when ordered, you have to wait a few minutes. But good news, there are peanuts for your eating pleasure.  Seating and soda is self serve.  The there’s lots of ketchup and malt vinegar to go around.

In fact, Val and I like Five Guys so much, we went there for Valentine’s Day!  We normally go to the one located in Silver Spring near Cherry Hill Road, but there’s lots to choose from.

Five Guys

Drinks and peanuts.

-Adam

Five Guys Famous Burgers & Fries\ on Urbanspoon

Five Guys on Urbanspoon

Five Guys - Columbia Mall on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review: Matchbox

Matchbox

Spicy meatball pizza. Yes, it was very spicy.

Val and I have birthdays that are 7 days apart, so we normally wind up celebrating a birthday week, having various dinners, cakes, presents, etc throughout the week with friends and family.  This year’s birthday week was a bit more low key – not 73 different types of beer at Brickskeller – but fun all the same.  After going to Central Michel Richard earlier in the week for Val’s birthday, I wanted to go to the DCist Exposed gallery followed by diner at Matchbox – both of which are in Chinatown.

Located a half block from the Chinatown metro stop and the Verizon Center, Matchbox is an American restaurant best known for their wood oven pizza, 3 / 6 / 9, and a good selection of beer and wine.  Aside from really good pizza, one of the things I liked about Matchbox during my first visit a few years ago was the intimate atmosphere.  Squished into an old townhouse that was renovated into the current restaurant (see the back of their menu for the full story, including the tree that was growing in the building), Matchbox’s interior sports rich woods and cozy seating spread across 3 floors.

Matchbox doesn’t take reservations, so expect to wait at least a few minutes if not longer during peak hours.  For my birthday dinner, our friends Matt and Marisa joined us.  It was Sunday about 6pm, and we had to wait just enough time to buy a round of beers at the downstairs bar.  Our host guided us to our table, passing through a dining room adjacent to the origional downstairs dining room I knew, and up a flight of stairs, through another dining room, and into yet another dining room.  I feel like Matchbox expanded since I was last there, but maybe I just didn’t take the full tour.  We were seated in a 6 seater booth – lots of room – with some spot accent lighting and matchbooks shadowboxed into the table.

We decided to split a few dishes, so everyone could enjoy.  We order a 9 version of the 3 / 6 / 9, that 9 mini burgers with a mound of well seasoned onion strings.  We had an option of blue, gounda, or america cheese, and decided to get an equal distribution of each.  Matt and Marisa also really wanted to try the duck salad on special, so we order one of those as well.  The burger were tasty, certainly not hurt by the mini brioche buns sprinkled with parmesan cheese.  Anything is better on a brioche roll!  The duck salad was also very good; I think we cleaned both plates.

Somewhere in here, we ordered more beer.  I don’t remember who got what; however, Matchbox has a pretty good selection, so that’s all you need to know.  For mains we ordered two pizzas, a large sausage sun dried tomato with balsamic vinegar and arugula, and a small spicy meatball.  The sausage pizza was excellent, having a nice balance between the creaminess of the cheese, the spiciness of the sausage , and the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar.  The spicy meatball pizza was also very good, although very spicy indeed.  After finishing our beers, we headed down the street to Tangy Sweet, one of the many yogurt joints that hit the DC scene last year.  My yogurt was very yummy, but they were out of Fruity Pebbles.  How do you run out of fruit pebbles?

Matchbox

Bell's beer, on tap.

Matchbox

9 order of the 3, 6, 9. That's 9 burgers and a heap of onion straws, with 3 types of cheeses..

Matchbox

A little artistic flair at the end of dinner :)

-Adam

Matchbox on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review: RIS

Apparently this restaurant has been in the works for a while.  There has been buzz around town that Chef Ris Lacoste would be opening her own place since 2005.  I would imagine it takes a while to find the right space, the right people, the right devoted following (kidding…just barely) and the right time to open a restaurant that hits perfection.  Chef Lacoste certainly aimed high and delivered with RIS.

RIS

The Washington Post did a critic’s review of the new neighborhood bistro last Sunday (3/21), but we had heard good things since the opening in December.  I received an email early last week letting me know that Adam had booked a reservation for Friday night, just before the peak dining hour of 7:00pm for Washingtonians.

We arrived and were promptly greeted by an extremely friendly host staff and seated in the “living room” portion of the restaurant.  The happy hour crowd was still at the bar, and it provided for a nice vibrant setting.   I hate places that are too quiet or that don’t have enough people in them.

Our waitress was excellent, even offering to let Adam try a beer he hadn’t had before.  While he was deciding, she moved to take care of the other tables assigned to her.  Out of nowhere, a second server swoops in, lets us know that our server was busy at the moment, and offered to take our drink order.  I asked what would go well with the steak, which I had chosen for my entree, and he recommended their porter instead of a glass of wine, because they cook the steak with the beer.  We’ll take two, please  :)

In addition to our beers, Adam and I both got the New England Clam Chowder for a starter.  Spring had become a little cooler that evening, and a nice bowl of soup was a great way to warm up.  It was exactly what a clam chowder should be – nice, rich (see the pad of butter in the picture below) and tasting of clams.

RIS

New England Clam Chowder

Our entrees consisted of mainstays for me and Adam – double cut pork chop for Adam and a grilled skirt steak for me.  The portions were excellent, and everything was cooked textbook perfect.  The only thing missing was a little salt on my dish.  Other than that, the flavors of all the components melded together nicely.

RIS

Cider Glazed Grilled Pork Chop

RIS

Grilled Portuguese Skirt Steak

One of the other dishes that I wanted to try was the chicken pot pie.  I’d heard great things, but I was in a steak mood that evening.  When I saw the dessert menu and found a pot pie on there, I figured that it had to be just as good.  The Apple and Pear pot pie with rum raisin ice cream was outstanding.  I recommend splitting it between two people.  It was just enough to share.  A perfect ending to a perfect dining experience.

RIS

Apple and Pear Pot Pie

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Restaurant Review (and Guide): Lauriol Plaza

Lauriol Plaza

Let me start my saving I’m a big fan of Lauriol Plaza, located a few blocks north east of Dupont Circle.  I’ve been going to Lauriol for years, ever since my friend Jim, who went to college in DC, took me for my initiation years ago.  Lauriol covers four floors, from the ground floor with outdoor seating with huge umbrellas and patio heaters and a bar, through the middle two floors of dining rooms, to the top floor with a open air rooftop deck – an yet another bar.  It’s a large place with a lot of mexican / cuban / latin food and a lot of people hanging out having a good time.

If you want to get a seat a Lauriol, especially in the summer or on a weekend, get there before 7pm.  Same applies for the free valet parking – it fills up later in the evening.  If you arrive later, plan to stand out front, munching on a basket of free homemade tortilla chips and a smoky chipotle salsa (the first of many baskets you’ll have throughout your stay), while washing them down with a glass, half pitcher, or whole pitcher of classic margarita or frozen swirl (strawberry and classic) margarita served in frosty mugs.  Oh, and the drinks a very well poured.  A note for large groups, the hostess requires your entire group to be in attendance to be seated.  If not, and you’ve just waited for 45 minutes, you have to start all over in the wait queue.  You can certainly say a part of 4 is only 3, all in attendance, get seated and add your fourth later.  But that really only helps for one straggler.  As we recently found out on our most recent visit for our friend Marisa’s birthday, they really do make you start waiting all over again.  More chips, salsa, and margarita anyone?

Once seated, you’ll find Lauriol’s menu is varried, from cheap quesadillas and burritos to steaks, seafood, and cehiveche.  I tend to stick to the more casual side of the menu, occasionally springing for the Bistec Cubano, a medum rare flank steak cooked medium rare with a delicious garlic and herb sauce, and a side of plantains.  However, under normal circumstances – a casual night out with friends – we start with a few bowls of queso, a creamy concoction of melted cheese and red onions perfect for dipping tortilla chips.  We normally mix in a few spoons of salsa and then go to town, devouring the queso and many additional baskets of tortilla chips – which are delivered plentifully.  I’ve learned that by the time the main course comes, I’ve normally had enough margarita / chips / salsa / queso to almost constitute a meal, so I normally split a burrito or quesadilla with someone.  While the foods isn’t groundbreaking, its good in a homey fulfilling kind of way.  The kind that goes well with a few drinks.  And that’s it – sit around and enjoy good company, good atmosphere, good foods, and the sights and sounds of Dupont circle around you.

Classic Margaritas

Lauriol Plaza

Frozen Strawberry and Classic Margarita

Lauriol Plaza

que

-Adam

Lauriol Plaza on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review: Mike’s American

Ribs

Guess which Washington DC metro area restaurant is #2 in the hearts of DCites?  Well since you’re reading this post, you might have guessed.  According to Urbanspoon users, it’s Mike’s American Grill in Springfield, VA.  Part of the Great American Restaurant group, Mike’s is part of a series of DC-based restaurants offering a great atmosphere, well prepared food, and reasonable prices – striking a great balance at these.  So on a Friday night with nothing to do, Val and I called up our friend Matt – who lives in Springfield – and head to Mike’s.

Mike’s has a call ahead seating, which means they’ll add your name to their wait list when you call and tell you an approximate wait time.  As an aside, I find this a nice feature as opposed to most DC restaurants that take reservations a month or more in advance.  While there are some occasions where I know where I want to eat that far in advance, it sorta takes the fun and spontaneity out of it.  Anyway, the estimated wait was 75 minutes, and after driving from Silver Spring to Springfield and Matt explaining how he busted his oven door – an unrelated but hilarious story – we headed over to Mike’s.

After waiting for 5 minutes or so in the huge waiting area / bar, we were seated at a booth in one of the many downstairs dining rooms.  The atmosphere was lively, with lots of fun casual talk filling the air.  The decor of the Mike’s is American nostalgia, with a few burning gas lamps here and there for flair.  I ordered a beer, while Val tried a spiked lemonaid (from the menu of custom Mike’s drinks), and Matt has his usual – gin up with a twist.  Our waiter was friendly and took good care of us throughout the evening.  After listening to the specials, we ordered.  I started with a chop salad followed by pork chops.  I haven’t historically ordered a lot of chops. but was looking for something different.  I also thought it was a good opportunity to see if Mike’s knew how to properly cook meat, as overcooked pork is not good at all.  I was somewhat reassured by the blurb on the menu explaining doneness, which suggested if you wanted your steak well done, you should order chicken.  Sounded like Mike’s and me were on the same page.  Val ordered a spicy shrimp starter followed by a full rack of ribs and fries.  Lastly, Matt ordered a ceasar salad followed by prime rib.

After enjoying the warm dinner rolls delivered shortly after our drinks, the starters arrive.  Portion sizes were very large.  Everything was very good.  My salad was nice and cool, which I like in a chop salad.  I tried one of Val’s shrimp – very tasty, with a bit of a kick and some nice sauce to go along.  Our meals were equally as good – and large.  I received two pork chops, cooked well – medium I mean.  You see, when the waiter asked how I wanted my chops cooked, I told him well done, meaning correctly, ala whatever the chef recommends.  After some confused conversation back and forth, we agreed on medium.  Anyway, very tasty.  Val and Matt also enjoyed their meal.  Stuffed and satisfied, we chatted for a bit longer, before heading back to Matt’s for some soaking in the hot tub.  An excellent was to end the evening…

Mike’s may not be the groundbreaking restaurant I’ve been to in DC, maybe not even my #2 (at least not for the food alone), the combination of great atmosphere and reasonable prices making it a wining combination, and somewhere I could afford to go over and over.

Spiked Lemonaid

Spiked Lemonade

Chop Salad

Chop Salad

Cooke’s Steak, Still Bleeding…

Beef

Perfectly Cooked Pork Chops, Still Pink That Is…

Porkchops


The Donesness Scale

_

-Adam

Mike's American Grill on Urbanspoon

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We’re coming back…we promise!

Seriously – we’re going to start posting regularly starting Sunday.  The massive amounts of snow and ski trips this winter have taken a toll on our blogging.  But, we’ve been eating, cooking, and taking pictures of it.  Check out Adam’s flickr feed for some previews!

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