Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pho 14

As fall has dawned upon us I am now in soup mode. In all reality I can eat soup year round but at least I am partially justified to have it as the weather cools. Pho (pronounced Fuh) is one of my favorite types of soups which originated in Vietnam.

Luckily there is a large contingent of Vietnamese mainly in Virginia that shares their culture in every facet including a large number of restaurants. For the most part all of the renowned Vietnamese cuisine was located in Falls Church and Alexandria which is a hassle to get to if you live in the district and do not own a vehicle.

In the past I was required to take the journey across the water to eat at Pho shops which were constantly ranked as the best and most authentic. Luckily Pho 14 decided to take a chance and open its doors in the up and coming Columbia Heights neighborhood. In their short stint they have expanded both their menu which used to be solely Pho as well as their restaurant which has doubled in size. They have also climbed up the rankings to the top spot for Pho in the area. Their recent accolade is being named best Pho of 2010 by the Washington City Paper.

Located only a metro stop from my house I was ecstatic to know that I had at the very least a dependable authentic place to eat that was convenient for me. Pho cures everything from a cold to a hangover and it is my go to place when I am in dire need of this. During my first visit I was under the impression that I had at least an armature understanding of Pho. This notion was quickly put to rest when I was presented their menu consisting of 22 different recipes coming in both a regular and large bowl.

Taking a deep breath I cleared my mind and decided to order Cha Go which are traditional Vietnamese egg rolls. The rolls consist of pork, shrimp, chicken and vermicelli noodles which are deep fried and served with fish sauce. The spring rolls were on par with the other Vietnamese establishments that I have visited in the past. I also decided to order Goi Cuon Do Bien which I have never tried before. These are seafood spring rolls which consist of calamari, shrimp, scallop, celery, green beans, carrots and mango wrapped in rice paper and served with a sweet chili and tamarind sauce.

(Goi Cuon Do Bien)

The Goi Cuon Do Bien was a bit of an upgrade of over the Cha Goi. The ingredients paired well with the sauce, each bite was refreshing in and of itself. The fact that it was served on fresh rice paper was also a good alternative to a deep fried concoction of meats and vegetables which I am accustomed to eating prior to my soup. After finishing my appetizers I though carefully about which Pho I would order.

After some quick deliberation I decided to order the number 1 (Tai, Nam, Gau, Gan, Sach) which consists of slices of round eye steak, well-done flank, morsels of fat brisket, soft tendon and bible tripe. Each bowl comes in either regular or large which run you $7.95 and $8.95 respectively. If you ever come here it is dogma to order a large. The Pho itself consists of a beef broth whose day long preparation time is as arduous and complex as (blank),but the end result is sheer brilliance.

(Tai, Nam, Gau, Gan, Sach)

The piping hot caldron of culinary brilliance was presented before my eyes in a matter of minutes. The bowl was also accompanied by the basic accoutrement of bean sprouts, jalapeño peppers, and mint leaves. My personal preference which has taken months to craft is to add all but the mint leaves, a generous helping of hoison sauce and a deluge of sriracha. Once my concoction was finalized I armed myself with my chopsticks and spoon and began to accost my soup with tranquil chaos.

During my meal I believe I touched culinary nirvana; the broth was the finest I have had to date and the round eye was moist and full of flavor. The beauty and elegance of the dish almost brought me to tears when I sipped the last ounce out of the bowl. Each time I have returned have been met with the same results. I have since tried the 2, 3, 4 & 6 which you can look up on their website. My preference is still the 1 which I would recommend having. They also have chicken and vegetarian pho both of which I have yet to try because I believe it is a bit sacrilegious.

(Bahn Mi Thit Ngui)

Aside from their phenomenal Pho they also have an assortment Vietnamese dishes including Do XAO (Stir Fry) and Bun (Vermicelli) the latter of which I have sampled. They also serve Bahn Mi’s at a respectable price. Above is the Bahn Mi Thit Nguoi which is the traditional sandwich which consists of pork and pickled vegetables all served in a baguette. The sandwich itself costs $4 but you can get also order the combination which comes with an appetizer and a cup of beef broth for $8 which is an amazing value. I only had their Bahn Mi once and I found it to be average. If you are looking specifically for this then I would venture elsewhere.

In conclusion Pho 14 is among one of the titans when it comes to both Pho. Their wide variety of options will suit anyone’s palate and is good for all Pho enthusiasts regardless of your experience. But be aware this fame does bring long lines and I have on several occasions swayed by lines that go out the door. So if it is a cold and rainy day don’t expect immediate service if you decide to show up, there was a line outside the door during hurricane Irene! Their prices are modest and the service is good. I would say that you should go specifically for the Pho but their other options are not bad.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Greek Spot

When you hear the or see the word Greece your initial thought at least recently has been their debt crisis as well as the perilous times facing the European Union. This unfortunate circumstance has taken away from our previous perception of Greece including their wonderful history in fine art, literature and food. The latter of these characteristics is the purpose of this post and takes us to one of the best dining spots for Greek food in the city.

The Greek Spot is small shop as its name indicates located right off of U St. Being a big fan of Greek food since my childhood I found it almost offensive that it took me until last year to visit this establishment. A close friend during my childhood was Greek so I would remember going over and having Tyropitakia, Horiatiki Salata and Baklava to name a few. For those whose knowledge of Greek cuisine is limited to Gyros use the power of Google to look up these dishes to enhance your knowledge and culinary palate.

Although rather small and visually unappealing The Greek Spot offers some of best and most authentic Greek food I have had to date. Before my personal discovery I was limited to a small number of shops to get Greek food, which was limited mostly to a salad or Gyro. But the menu here far surpasses what I have seen in this city and my personal knowledge of Greek cuisine.

My litmus test for any Greek restaurant is their Gyro. Now I know I just lambasted people who didn’t know anything beyond this dish but that speaks volumes to its popularity. Although its origin lies in Turkey (bet you didn’t know that) gyros are most commonly associated as traditional dish of Greece, at least from an American perspective. During my visit I decided to get a Gyro which I ordered with tzatziki sauce, an option that I recommend you do as well. I took it out to their small outdoor dining section with my friend and basked in a typical summer afternoon on U St.


Once seated we began to devour our meals as ruthlessly as the Achaeans during the Trojan War. The lamb was oozing with flavor and permeated with an array of spices that blended perfectly. The feta, onions, lettuce and tzatziki added their own dimensions to create the best gyro I have ever tried. Their platter included their own seasoned fries which were also very tasty. I accompanied my meal with a bottled Fanta and a small Baklava. After our meal was finished we both basked in the sun and lightly reminisced the culinary experience that had just passed.

Delighted by my experience I have continued to visit; from the occasional drunk munchies run to the Saturday afternoon post run The Greek Spot never disappoints. Another dish I like is the Chicken Souvlaki which consists of small portions of grilled chicken, feta, tomatoes and cucumbers. The chicken itself is marinated in an array of spices grilled on a skewer. You can also choose pork if that is your preference.

(Chicken Souvlaki)

The Souvlaki was good, the chicken was moist and the marinated well. The vegetables that accompanied it went well and made for a fair dish. If I to make a choice I would prefer a gyro or even a falafel but that is not taking away from the taste of the dish.

In conclusion The Greek Spot is a destination that needs your attention. The food is fantastic, the service is quick and the prices are beyond reasonable for joy that will ensue. I would recommend ordering take out or if you live in the area they also deliver. While going to Greece may be the only way to truly experience the elegance of their food visiting The Greek Spot is a much cheaper alternative.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bar Pilar

Our tour of 14th street takes us to one of my favorite neighborhood destinations. Bar Pilar serves it patrons New American cuisine along with an assortment of fine cocktails and beers. Located between S & T St. Bar Pilar presents the ambiance of a European café paired with an eclectic menu.

The interior offers hints of classical rustic design. The exposed brick walls are adorned with classical posters while the chandeliers offer dim lighting which meshes well with the classical design of the bar. The space itself is very small which provides for a very intimate setting that I believe the owners intended on.

My first few visits were solely for drinks during impromptu gatherings or happy hours. I then decided to have an afternoon lunch during which time I sampled an assortment of wines and cheeses. Their menu is based on the local ingredients available at the time sot it rotates by season.

My main culinary attraction is their brunch menu which I have sampled extensively. My most recent visit came this past Saturday with a good friend of mine. I was laboring from a miniscule hangover which was the result of red wine, rum and bourbon from the past night. To remedy this ill I decided to order their Hangover cure and a Bacon Bloody Mary.

(Bacon Bloody Mary)

The former is a messy concoction of eggs with cheese, biscuits, sausage gravy, home fries, ketchup and sriracha sauce while the latter is a classic drink combined with our recent obsession of bacon. While visually and structurally unappealing the hangover cure was menacingly good to the extent that a cloud of caloric guilt hovered over me for the rest of the day. While I am not the biggest fan of Bloody Mary’s I did enjoy it and saved the juicy alcohol covered slather of bacon until the end.

My friend ordered a couple of eggs and a plate of toast and mocked every bite I took seeing as though our roles seemed to be reversed on this day (I am usually weary of eating anything particularly unhealthy, especially in the morning). After our meal my mild hangover subsided and I did not feel the overbearing weight of my meal which was fairly delightful.

(The Hangover Cure with Toast)

The minimalist approach of this venue is what drives me to continue to return. In the future I hope to extensively sample their lunch and dinner menu again which I would characterize as New American tapas. I enjoy the intimate setting especially when it is less crowded which is not the norm.

In conclusion Bar Pilar is a fantastic destination for both drinks and food. The crowd is a bit older and sophisticated; I myself have felt a bit out of place at times but don’t let that discourage you. They have a small patch of outdoor seating which gives you a nice view of 14th St. During the weekend it can get crowded at which point I believe it loses some value. Great brunch, a diverse beer selection and some interesting cocktails make this an establishment to try if you haven’t already.