Saturday, November 17, 2012

Sugarfish By Sushi Nozawa (Santa Monica)

When I compare and contrast the quality of food from coast to coast there are a few dishes that can be debated on, some you call even, and others where it is not even a question. When it comes to Sushi there is no doubt in my mind that the west coast reigns supreme. While there can be many different reasons why this is so I believe the proximity to its origin is the most germane.

One of the several restaurants that stick to its Japanese roots is Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa. The restaurant was founded by Kazunori Nozawa who retired earlier this year after 47 years of service. Nozawa began his tremendous career in Japan cleaning dishes and washing plates as he worked his way up the ladder. During his stay he spent a good deal of time traveling the vast regions of Japan learning to prepare different cuts of fish.

(Image via Yelp)

After opening up a restaurant in Tokyo with his family he moved to California to share this amazing cuisine. His first shop opened in Studio City and as his popularity grew Mr. Nozawa sprawled out to various other locations in the Los Angeles region. His retirement this past February was a blow to the culinary world and I for one am sad that I did not get to visit the Studio City location which closed shortly after.

On the Brightside his teachings were passed down and remain ingrained in the remaining restaurants, one of which I visited this past week. As I strolled down 2nd street on a cool Thursday afternoon I could not wait to experience a traditional sushi dinner. Once I arrived my eyes were dazzled by lovely fixtures which lined the walls.

Since the restaurant takes no reservations it is up to you to make the best judgment on when to go. I expected a mild wait on a Thursday night but was pleasantly surprised when I was told it would only take 10-15 minutes. Before I knew it we were being seated in a cozy little both with the menus right in front of us.

For those who are unaware of what traditional sushi is I can sum it up with one quick phrase, it’s all about fish. Most of us have been exposed to the Americanization of this Japanese delicacy with rolls filled with an abundant amount of different toppings which is then submerged in soy sauce. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that type of sushi I feel like it takes away from the true meaning and even masks the flavor of fish to a large extent.

(Salmon, Yellowtail, and Tuna Sashimi)

At this restaurant everything is about both the quality of the fish and rice. What makes it great is that Mr. Nozawa has designed the menu to be friendly to both experienced and novice eaters. For the latter you can choose one of three samplings of sushi which are called Trust Me, Trust Me/Lite, and The Nozawa. We decided to split the Nozawa which consists of organic edamame, tuna sashimi, albacore, salmon, snapper, yellowtail, halibut, a tono hand roll, blue crab hand roll, and the daily special which was seared scallops that day.   

Our meal began by nibbling on the edamame and sipping some cold sake. After a couple of minutes the plates began to come out. Once a plate was placed on our table the waiter would give a quick presentation of what the fish was and if it had any sauce on it. In the case of the latter it is advised that you do not add any soy sauce. Throughout the meal I used little to no soy sauce because I wanted to fully enjoy each cut of fish. I also ate a slice of ginger after each piece to refresh my pallet.

(Tono Hand Roll)

As our meal progressed I could not help but notice how each dish exceeded its predecessor.  It was as if Chef Nozawa designed the courses to resemble a roller-coaster of flavor. Each piece brought me to new heights and just when I would think the ride is over I would be blown away yet again. 

Overall I have nothing but great things to say about my experience here. The sushi is fantastic, it sticks to its traditional roots and it the price tag will not kill you. The servers were both reliable and informative and the ambiance was soothing. If you are in the area and in the mood for sushi I would recommend making this your destination. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dogtown Dogs (Los Angeles Food Truck)

The food truck scene has been latest fad in an ever changing industry. I documented it well in DC where it is still in its infancy and now that I live in LA I get to explore the birthplace of this industry. 

Currently I live and work in Santa Monica without a car so getting to any food trucks during my lunch break is a bit difficult and I have also been a bit lazy in finding online trackers as well as researching any particular trucks I wanted to find. Living here for just about 6 months now my sole experience with the mobile food industry came during a random outing on a Saturday night in Culver City. 

I knew this had to stop so I made a real effort to reserach any gatherings that take place nearby. While consulting with some friends I found out that there was a huge gathering of them on the first Friday of each month along a prosperous street called Abbot Kinney in Venice beach.  

(Image Via Yelp)

I walked after work along the lovely beach neighborhoods and through main street until I hit the famous stretch. In the past I used to go to food truck festivals every Friday in Downtown DC and be amazed at the 20 or so food stands that encircled the park. But after a couple of  I became a bit bored because I knew every truck there and had either tried them or had no inclination to. This was not the case here, in fact it was one of the few instances in my life were I felt overwhelmed at the shear amount of options I had in front of me. 

I did not let it overtake me because I came destined to try the famous grilled cheese truck which I had watched on Food Network. I started from the beginning of street and walked down what seemed like an endless array of shops, bars and food trucks. When I came to the end of the line I saw a small lot where a couple of trucks had aggregated. The first truck I laid my eyes on was Dogtown Dogs which is one of the more famous ones in LA that serves hot dogs slathered with variety of off the wall toppings. 

(Tater Tots)

After briefly scanning the menu I instantly became torn. If you do not know I absolutely love hot dogs and find it paramount that I meet a quota, if not I start to viciously crave them. It had been a couple of weeks since my last dog so once I saw the truck my cravings for one reached a 10 on the Oscar Mayer Scale. As hard as it was I decided to stick to my guns and look for the grilled cheese. I found it in the same lot and was ecstatic until I realized the line stretched longer than the sands of time. 

I knew then and there that it was my destiny to get my fix tonight and this truck would provide it. I gave the truck another quick scan and ended up ordering their Morning Commute and some tater tots. The Morning Commute consists of a dog wrapped in bacon which is adorned with a fried egg on top. I felt a bit devious ordering this, once it was handed to me I looked through my peripheral vision in search of anyone who would judge me for what I was about to eat. 

(Morning Commute)

I did my best golem impersonation (kidding) and took refuge to a place where I could enjoy this cylindrical concoction of mysterious ingredients wrapped in bacon with a runny egg. Having little to nothing to eat the whole day I bit in with reckless abandon. The dog was juicy and well flavored, the bacon wrapped around it made it even better and the egg wrapped everything together. Before I could even blink I finished the whole thing. I then proceeded to text any friends that have a similar passion for hot dogs this picture while I munched on some tater tots. I then stood there contemplating getting another hot dog but decided to pass.

I left feeling good with the decision I made. While this was not the path I had chosen, I ended up at a crossroads and changed course which is what happens to all of us everyday. Not only did I have a great meal, I now know of another truck that I will be keeping my eye on. If you love hot dogs like me and are in the Los Angeles area I recommend giving these guys a shot. They have a number of other flavor options that are sure to raise your eyebrows.   

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tender Greens (Santa Monica)

I must apologize yet again for my rash inconsistency since moving to LA. The transition has been rough, odd, fulfilling, and suspenseful all of which have caused a number of my former hobbies to take a back seat. Another more pertinent reason is the high cost on the west side of Los Angeles which tends to inflate the price for everything as you may discover in this post. Even with all of these barriers I am consistently trying to rekindle my passion with writing and critiquing food.

Now that I am done complaining we can proceed to our next stop. Tender Greens is a local chain of restaurants catering to the stereotypical Southern California resident. They serve a wide variety of salads, sandwiches and small platters consisting of healthy locally grown organic produce. Luckily the closest location is right off the famous 3rd Street Promenade which is walking distance from both my home and work.

My first experience came during an impromptu lunch gathering on a Friday afternoon. The choice was surprising because my coworkers don't come off as being very health conscious. Regardless I welcomed the opportunity to try something new. Once we arrived we were greeted by a line walking out the door which is not surprising due to the high volume of people the neighborhood attracts.

While in line we basked in the gorgeous 75 degree sunlight with a mild breeze while scanning the menu. Before I knew it I was in front of the attendant who takes orders. Still unsure of what to get I happened to randomly pick the grilled octopus salad. Once you place in order you are subjected to walk along the open kitchen in an act of culinary torture. As I walked passed all the different food being prepared I could not help but second guess my decision.

At the end of the line I was presented my salad along with a fresh lemonade I had to go with it. Once I paid we ruthlessly searched for a place to sit in the chaos that is the lunch rush. We were lucky to scrounge a table in their outside patio area. The salad is rather large which is a good thing since it costs $11. I was given a generous portion of octopi which went well with the grilled lemon vinaigrette that is was topped with. Basking in the gorgeous sun on an October afternoon I could not help but reminisce of my weekly visits to Sweetgreen for a light salad followed by a walk along the Waterfront in Georgetown.

(Chipotle Barbeque Chicken Salad) 

Enjoying my first experience I decided that spending my next Friday afternoon here would be ideal. When the day rolled by to my utter surprise it was a sunny cloudless day (get the massive amount of sarcasm). The line wasn't as hectic this go around which was a pleasant surprise. When it was my time to order I decided to order the chipotle barbeque chicken salad as well as a pomegranate lemon bar to treat myself for a hard week of work.

Once I was finished the culinary death march I was presented my food which made me $18 poorer. The salad consisted of romaine hearts, avocado, queso fresco, green onion, and crispy tortilla strips all topped off with a cilantro lime dressing. It was light and refreshing as expected, you can really tell the ingredients are of the highest quality.

(Pomegranate Lemon Bar)

After finishing my salad I proceeded to the lemon bar. While my time here has been short I can easily say this is one of the best things I have eaten in LA so far and one of the best snacks I have ever eaten. Each pomegranate seed burst with a tsunami of flavor that jolted my senses and matched well with the sweetness of the lemon. I am not much of a sweets person as you may know but I will definitely have this again in the near future. 

 All in all I am pleased with this restaurant. The food is good but pricy for me to go to everyday. The lines can be long but it is well worth it. When you go you can get a salad, a sandwich of sorts or a platter which consists of a meat (or tuna) with some delicious mashed potatoes and a side salad. A must try if you are in the mood for healthy food in the Santa Monica area. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

James' Beach

When contemplating the venue of my first post in my new city I thought, what food do people think of when you mention Southern California? I think fish tacos, a dish that has a special place in my heart. I have come across this dish multiple times during food explorations and continue to sample the different renditions for the purpose of experiencing the culinary bliss that it brings me. 
My undying passion for this simple meal made me search near and far for restaurants that serve the best fish tacos around.  This odyssey let me to James' Beach which is said to serve the best fish tacos in Southern California. Nestled in the middle of Venice James' Beach is most known for its prominence in the film I love You Man. In the movie one of the characters claims that this specific restaurant serves the best fish tacos in California, a line which was put in by the director who truly believes this.

(Image via Yelp

Having seen this movie back when I was living in DC I never really though of keeping a note to try this place when. Even after I moved it didn't occur to me to try this place until my friend commented on a 4square check-in asking if this was the place from I Love You Man.

After this I made it a priority to visit this restaurant. Unfortunately a combination of not having a job or very many friends delayed the visit. Once I was finally able to go I made the short drive from Santa Monica to Venice. Despite the fact that traffic was backed up on a Tuesday night I full of joy and anticipation.

In the back of my mind I envisioned a line filled with hoards of tourists going for the same precise reason as I was. Being the victim of a number of tourist traps I could only think how long the wait would be and the possible conversations being struck up or people blurting out quotes like THIS IS MY NIGHTMARE or where's Pistol Pete? To my surprise I did not see any of that. In fact the restaurant was mostly empty which had me guessing that something may be up.

 (Carrot and Jicama plate)

Once seated we ordered a round of drinks and were given a complimentary dish of fresh carrots and jicama to nibble on as we scanned the menu. In this case there was no need for that since I came for one reason. Once our server came I informed her that I wanted the famous fish tacos which were the special that day.

Before I could even start to crave the dish it appeared before my eyes. The presentation is a bit unorthodox but I really liked it. Instead of being wrapped with all the ingredients you are given all the components to prepare the tacos as you please. With a tortilla in my hand I began to ration my fish out. I then added the pico de gallo and guacamole which was all drizzled with a bit of salsa verde. I then topped it all off with a light coating of salt, pepper and a drip of tabasco sauce.

(Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos)

Once my concoction was built I began to nibble while I waited for my senses to fully register the flavors and relay it to my brain. My initial thoughts were how well seasoned the fish was. What followed was the same feeling of joy that comes every time I eat fish tacos. Having enough to make three tacos I played with the flavor combinations. I found that excluding the guacamole really brought out the most in contrasting flavors, especially between the salsa verde and Mahi Mahi. 

After our meal was finished I came across the seemingly impossible question. Where these the best fish tacos I have ever had? If you diligently read my posts this question appears over and over again and my answer is yet change. While these tacos were great it is almost impossible for me to stand here and declare these as the best. Even though I have sampled this dish a great number of times I still have a ways to go before I can proclaim this dish as the best I have ever had. That does not however mean that these tacos weren't extraordinary because they really were.

In conclusion James' Beach good restaurant. The interior takes the touristy look and somehow makes it look really cute. The service was fantastic and the drinks were good. The prices were a bit on the steep side so I would stick to the daily specials. I only hope to come in next time and spot Pistol Pete and Joben drunkenly cracking jokes next to me while we both enjoy some fantastic tacos.   

Friday, August 31, 2012

Basil Thyme!

Bonjourno, our food truck expedition takes us on a tour of Italian cuisine. Basil Thyme, headed by Brian Farrell and Malik Umar has become recognized both locally and nationally as one of the best food trucks. The truck serves a variety of different lasagnas and cannolis to local residents looking to quench their appetites or carb up for the afternoon sit-down marathon in their cubicle.

Basil Thymes fame have made it a must try in the city and there are no signs of slowing. Its current popularity has boosted it to 2nd best food truck in City Papers “Best of” issue and 4 ½ stars on Yelp. Despite all of these accolades I somehow never tried this truck until this past year. Overlooking this truck wasn’t because of a lack of cognizance or interest but just something that slipped the cracks.

(Image via I heart food DC

My first visit came around March when I took to the streets of Foggy Bottom while running some errands. I spotted the truck and decided to finally give it a try. I will be forthright in saying that I am not the biggest fan of Italian cuisine. I think lasagna, pasta, and pizza are all great foods but I cannot for the life of me think of an instance where I have craved any of these dishes. Regardless of my attitude I calmly waited in line browsing the selection of lasagnas. I decided on ordering the Lisetta which consists of slow roasted pork in a vodka sauce.  I took it back to the office and enjoyed my meal. The portion size was perfect for me and the side salad balanced out the dish leaving me quenched.

While I did not salivate like Garfield at the thought of trying the truck again I always kept the option open should there be another opportunity. This chance presented itself a couple of weeks ago when the truck visited M St. Still recovering from the removal of my wisdom teeth I thought Lasagna would a good option. To my chagrin the line was the longest of the three other food trucks in the area. I remember the afternoon vividly as it was one of the first days of excruciating humidity known as a DC summer. As I watched people in line melting away I began to second guess my decision of eating warm lasagna on a brutal day. I stuck to my guns and waited in line because in reality the heat did not bother me at all.

(Linda Lasagna)  

Once my turn came I was glistening like a chicken in the oven and seriously considered walking to an ice cream store to order a banana split. I scratched that thought and decided to order the Linda which is their most popular dish. It is a traditional lasagna that consists of seasoned beef with tomato sauce. I also ordered the cannoli of the day which in this case was chocolate chip. 

I took my food and found shelter underneath a tree with my friend. While she giggled with amusement from my infant like approach to eating food I was savoring the flavors of a well composed dish. The lasagna was a hit but I was sad that I could not fully enjoy every bite without a throbbing pain in my mouth. After finishing off the platter I could not find any room for the cannoli so I took it back to the office to have as an afternoon snack.  

(Chocolate Chip Cannoli) 

About an hour after my lunch I found the need to snack on the aforementioned Italian treat. The cannoli was refreshing and well flavored. After finishing it I could only wish that I had another to split with a friend. My meal was a combo which came with a soda and run me $12 which is fairly reasonable in DC or any major city these days. 

All in all Basil Thyme does right in my book. While I am a huge fan of this particular cuisine I can easily see myself getting food from this truck if they were in my neighborhood. Now that I have moved to the other coast our expedition embarks on the LA food truck scene which most consider the birth of mobile cuisine. Until next time, arrivederci!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Even though its been only two months since I have moved from DC there are a number of little things I already miss. Aside from my friends who I love dearly there are quite a few cultural differences that naturally arise when you live two thousand miles away. 

One of these things is a dependable sandwich shop. I have quickly come to the realization that somewhere during the westward expansion the concept of a sandwich was lost. As I traveled west I distinctly remember having my last great sandwich in Chicago, anything afterwards was a utter joke. 

Even though DC doesn't come close to competing with NYC or Philadelphia when it comes to the quantity of good sandwich shops it is leaps and bounds over the west coast. In DC most residents will claim that Taylor Gourmet serves the best subs. I will wager that this group has yet to try SUNdeVICH, which in my opinion gives them a run for their money.

Up until this year SUNdeVICH was unbeknownst to a majority of residents outside the Shaw/ Mt. Vernon neighborhood. I myself was unaware of its existence until I stumbled upon it on Yelp. I was even more shocked when I realized that it was within walking distance from my house. Towards my last couple of months their popularity quickly rose when they beat out the aforementioned Taylor Gourmet in a Washington Post poll. It was at this point that I made it a priority to give them a shot.

When I made my first visit I quickly realized why there were not well known. Hidden in the middle of an ally between N & O St. it is very easy to miss if you are casually walking down the street. I distinctly remember coming back from a run and stopping by on my way back. I initially walked passed it and had to turn around when I entered the actual address into my phone. Once I found it I entered and  quickly scanned their chalkboard menu. I decided to order the Buenos Aires which consists of large chunks of steak and onions all on top of Chimichurri. For those who are unaware, Chimichurri is a fantastic steak sauce which originates from Argentina (surprise, surprise) which is known for cooking great steaks.

At the time there were no other customers so I decided on taking it home instead of eating alone inside an empty restaurant. Once I got home I let my voracious appetite take control while my mind drifted off. I only really remember being pleasantly surprised by both the quantity and quality of the steak I was given as well as the soft baguette it was served on. After that I made a note to go again after my Saturday football game on the National Mall.


After I did my best to imitate Tom Brady on the football field I decided to make good on my promise and quench my appetite with another one of these sandwiches. During my second visit it was empty yet again which was puzzling on a Saturday afternoon when people are out walking around. 

Brushing that thought aside I quickly scanned their menu and noticed a sandwich that I did not remember seeing the first time. The Paris which consists of ham, gruyere cheese, tomato and dijon mustard on top of sunny side up eggs. To me this flavor combination sounds like heaven on a roll and I asked myself how I could have possibly overlooked it the first time. I then asked the server if it was a new item and she told me that it was a sandwich of the month that had recently been put on the menu permanently due to popular demand. 


This time I didn't mind sitting alone in an empty restaurant, mainly because I was so tired and hungry. But after taking the first bite I regretted the decision out of shear embarrassment. Once my teeth broke the light seal on the eggs, thus exposing the yoke which interacted with the ham and gruyere. The assortment of ingredients produced a flavor orgy in my mouth which produced tears of joy that I wish I could replicate right now. After I devoured the sub I highly contemplated ordering another but instead exited the property post haste in order to prevent me from making a foolish yet genius decision.

My last visit came during one of my last days in DC. I remember it being a rainy week which was symbolic of my feelings at the time. I braved through the weather and ordered a Kingston which consists of jerk chicken, pineapple salsa, spicy slaw and garlic mayo. To continue with the dreary theme the sandwich was a huge letdown. While the flavor combination seemed like it would taste fantastic I was left asking myself what I should do with the other half.

Unfortunately I did not have enough time to sample any of their other sandwiches and give them a chance to redeem themselves. But I figured that two out of three is good enough for me. While I will not proclaim that they have dethroned Taylor Gourmet as the best sandwich spot in DC they have pulled a good fight. The quality of their ingredients and their culturally diverse menu allows them to be called a superb sub shop in my opinion and one worth your attention.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Columbia Room

We continue our food tour after a prolonged hiatus of which I offer my sincerest apologies. As many of you may know I have decided to start a new chapter in my life by traveling across the country and moving to Los Angeles.  While I like to gloat that my travels were as courageous and daring as Jack Kerouac they were not but my experiences driving cross country share a number of similarities. 

My transition has been difficult in many ways and have inevitably affected my daily routine. Now that I have fully situated myself and begun working again I can revert back to the routine that I enjoyed so dearly. While my posts will be primarily on the west coast from this point on I hope you continue to read and interact even if they may not be relevant to you. 

I changed the name of the blog to Channeling My Inner Fat Child and hope to get more creative as I continue to feed my culinary curiosity. During my time off I have experienced a quasi-catharsis; I came to a realization that I enjoy traveling quite a bit and will dedicate more of my resources to feeding this hobby. 

With all that taken care of we continue the topic at hand right were we left off. My last post was about the culinary outlandish and cocktail enthusiast bar The Passenger. Our next post deals with the Columbia Room which is a bar within The Passenger. Hidden discretely in the back Columbia Room is a reservation only bar intended for cocktail savants or people interested in taking a tour of sophisticated spirits.

Listed as the 18th Best Cocktail bar in GQ the Columbia Room is easily on of the best bars in DC proper. As mentioned above Columbia Room is a reservation only so you can not simply stroll in at your own convenience. Luckily reservations aren't too hard to come by so don't fret.

Once you have reserved a time you simply go to one of the servers in The Passenger before your alloted time. The appointments take about 45 minutes to an hour depending on how many people are at the bar. The cost is $65 which includes two drinks that are predetermined and one drink of your choosing as well as a small appetizer. You can continue drinking after that but you start a new tab with the bartender and drinks cost a certain price which I don't know off the top of my head.

I have had the luxury of visiting this bar twice during my time in DC. As you may have discerned from previous posts I fancy myself a sophisticated drinker. Having a friend who owns a liquor store, going to a number of wine tastings and have a small click of friends who love fancy cocktails enabled me to believe that I knew a good deal about spirits and the art of cocktails. But after my first visit I was humbled and embarrassed to a small extent of how little I actually knew.

During this humbling first experience I was merely a spectator enjoying the experience. I took no photographs or notes, I just breathed in the experience. After that I set up another reservation for a friends birthday in hopes of recuperating a tiny bit of my dignity.

Once you enter you are greeted by the bartender who will be serving you for the evening. The bar itself is quite small which gives a really intimate feel. The exposed brick, dim lighting, and low ambient music offer a very chic modern atmosphere. Everything that is done here is as precise and organized as can be. From cooled glasses, shaved ice and even cucumber infused wash cloths everything is performed to perfection.

My tour started off with an absinth based drink which was magnificent. This was followed by a drink called Look Before You Leap which composed of Plymouth gin, sweet vermouth and acid phosphate with a orange garnish. The drink was smooth and complex and was accompanied by a seared scallop with a sea foam reduction which was also quite elegant.

As I mentioned above the final drink you consume is up to your choice. The bartenders are obviously very knowledgeable and can assist you in your decision. I remember during my first visit I had a playful argument with one of the bartenders about how horrible olives and olive juice were. The bartender disagreed so I dared them to make me a martini that I would actually like. Low and behold he made a fool out of me, he also provided me with their olives which were quite amazing.

During the next instance I had some more fun with my bartender. I asked her to make me a drink with similar qualities to a rum and coke. After she raised her eyebrows I said I was joking and threw her a curveball. I asked her to make the drink that made her fall in love with cocktails. She took a moment to compose herself and started making a traditional Italian cocktail composed entirely out of Vermouth. I wish I wrote down the name because I truly enjoyed every aspect of it which is a bit surprising because I am not a fan of Vermouth.

In conclusion I highly recommend making a reservation for the Columbia Room. It is a great way to take a date, celebrate a birthday or anniversary or just learn about the art of mixology. People think the price of admission is unreasonable, especially for only three drinks. I counter by telling them to either use or ask them if they ever buy shots and if so to look at how expensive they are. Also this is a only a yearly experience, its not as if you are doing it frequently. I hope my pitch sold you because I know you will not be disappointed if you chose to visit.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Passenger

The art of Mixology is a far cry from the old days that started during prohibition and ended sometime in the late 1950’s. Cocktails were not reserved to a specific class of people but was something every drinker partook in. During its heyday an Old Fashioned, Manhattan or Tom Collins was the drink of choice. Nowadays your average drinker will have a bud light or rum and coke. This unfortunate circumstance has trickled up to bartenders who on average (at least with my experience) have forgotten or never even learned the fine art of making a cocktail

Being a fan of cocktails I can’t help but remember the several instances where I asked a bartender to make an Old Fashioned or Gin Rickey and be looked at with a stare of bewilderment. Luckily there has been a recent revival of the classic cocktail. The days of having to go to semi-upscale bars or restaurants for a good cocktail may be over. One such establishment is The Passenger which has become my favorite hangout spot for a good old cocktail.

(Image via Go Indie)

Themed after the prohibition era brothers Derek and Tom Brown opened The Passenger which has rapidly risen to fame becoming not only one of the best bars in DC but one of the best in the country. Located across the street from the Convention Center The Passenger attempts to revive the era of sophisticated cocktail to every willing and interested patron. The bar itself stands on a half used strip almost hidden by the average pedestrian.

Since my initial visit over 3 years ago I have been a loyal customer ever since. There is no time when I don’t want to visit this bar, whether it’s for a quick drink or the last stop before hitting the shack I will never hesitate going.

(Pork Cheek Nachos)

All their bartenders have years of experience crafting a wide variety of cocktails which suit any cocktail enthusiast. From a novice to sommelier you will surely find what you are looking for. If you like most people belong to the former category then you should look at their chalkboard specials or ask the bartenders who are more than welcome to craft something that fits your needs.

Aside from their extensive cocktails The Passenger also has one of the most outlandish menu’s I have ever laid my eyes on. At first glance you will be puzzled how some of the items were crafted or even by whom. A few dishes seem to be the work of culinary ingenuity while others seem to be the fantasy of a teenager with the munchies.

(Kimchi Hot Dog)

Every time I visit I always fight the urge to try order some food but the temptation is too much to resist. Whether you are sharing an order of their deviously delectable pork cheek nachos with a group of friends or snacking on some beef jerky by your lonesome The Passenger offers a wide variety of food that is sure to please anyone looking to satisfy their drunken appetite.

Two of my most interesting culinary experiences came on two separate instances at this very establishment. The first was on a Friday night when I decided to grab a quick bite with a friend. I decided to order their Kimchi Hot dog. This hot dog is not like your traditional ketchup, mustard, and relish concoction. Someone had the audacity of covering a hot dog with cream cheese on top of a bed of Kimchi and a slight drizzle of Sriracha. 

I was not dissuaded by the description and thought that the flavors would actually blend very well and they did indeed. The dog itself was full of flavor and the kimchi was on point. The bun however was a bit off for me, toasting it would make it a bit better and it wouldn’t fall apart.

(Deep Fried Bacon-Wrapped PB Cup)

My next experience came after my first visit inside the Columbia Room (more on that later). After an evening of lavish drinking I took a seat in the back of the bar which closely resembles a train car. I decided to order a Manhattan and was in the mood for something sweet to top off the night. As I scanned the menu my eyes suddenly drew wide open and my pupils honed in on what must be a stoner’s wet dream. 

I read it once in my head then aloud with a tone of bewilderment. I said “may I have an order of deep fried bacon wrapped peanut butter cup”. Once our order came in my partner and I began to dig in. I won’t sugar coat anything hear by trying to explain what it tasted like because you really can’t. It tastes exactly what it sounded like and I felt a bit naughty after finishing it.

In conclusion The Passenger is a great place to visit. It stature among the crowds do it little justice. The bartenders are very knowledgeable and accommodating, the food is both interesting and tasty and the prices aren’t extravagant. Its massive popularity has been a bit of a drag on the allure of the bar. What to me is a very intimate bar at times can be as crowded as a can of sardines. But that has not dissuaded me from going regularly, in fact I just tend to delay my arrival or go on off nights when you really a better experience. They also house The Columbia Room which made the list of one of the best bars in the US and is the topic of my next post. If you are a fan of cocktails or interested in trying something new you should give this place a shot. You will surely leave with a new found passion for mixology.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Did someone say José Andrés? Yes, the time has finally time to delve into one of the masters of molecular gastronomy. After reading this I will bet you that your first three guesses are wrong. No I am not critiquing Oyamel, Jaleo, or Zaytinya. No I am not even lucky or wealthy enough to try American Eats or Minibar. I am here to talk about his latest project Pepe the gourmet food truck that is another step in the evolution of this booming industry.

Chef Andrés immense talent and celebrity have made him one the of the kings of DC dining. His famous creations such as the aforementioned Minibar and American Eats have almost monopolized the fine dining experience in the district. His latest project is Pepe, a food truck that has also taken the district by storm.    

(Photo via Yelp)

The menu consists of long thin baguettes called flautas which are adapted from everything José grew up eating in Spain. When news first broke of this trucks arrival I did my best to stay away for the first couple of weeks. Reading the initial stories that people waited in excess of 30 minutes in line I quickly discovered that I made the right decision. Once the smoke had settled I decided to monitor the trucks daily location and make the pounce at the right moment.

Ironically my first experience came at possibly the worst moment. I first sampled Chef Andrés sandwiches during this past months Sweetlife festival. The initial sampling was a bit of a surprise as a friend offered me to try a couple of his sandwiches in a state of drunken happiness. I tried my best to fend off the drunken munchies but eventually fell victim to my own gluttony.

(Pepito de Ternera) 

I was handed the Butifarra Burger to have for myself. As delighted as I was to have this I was barely able to eat it as I have been recovering from surgery to remove my wisdom teeth. I managed to devour a couple of bites of this sandwich which consists of a Spanish pork burger topped with alioli and brava sauce. The quality of the sandwich was off the charts, the pork was juicy which oozed with flavor and the sauces added the finishing touches. I was deeply saddened that my jaw would not cooperate with me during this experience so I gave the sandwich back.  In a movement of miscommunication I was given the Pollo Frito which consists of fried chicken, lettuce, and piparra peppers which is topped with aliolo and brava sauce.

The Pollo Frito was good but nothing like the Butifarra burger in my opinion. The fried chicken was fabulous but the complimentary ingredients did not shout out enough. Also the chicken did not scream with as many flavors as the aforementioned pork. Needless to say I was fairly impressed with the quality of food and not having to wait in line was another good perk. My initial experience enticed me to visit his truck again this past week at the campus of George Washington University. 

A bit weary at the prospect of having to wait in line I decided to arrive right when trucks usually open their doors (around 11:30-12:00). I was delighted when I turned the corner to see the truck with only a few lunch gathers standing next to it. I pounced in line and waited no more than 5 minutes to place my order. During that time I juggled between the Spanish Grilled Cheese and the Pepito de Ternera. In the end I decided on the latter as well as a Chocolate and Hazelnut Ice Cream Flauta. I placed my order and grimaced at the $19 price tag that this came with.

(Chocolate and Hazelnut Ice Cream Flauta)

The Pepito de Ternera consists of seared beef tenderloin, caramelized onions, pequillo pepper confit, and blue cheese. After taking my first couple of bites I knew that my money was well spent. The quality of the beef was astronomical, the pequillo pepper confit blended well with the juices of the beef and were perfectly complimented by the blue cheese. I was amazed yet again by the quality of food and puzzled how one can cook this in a truck. The portion size allowed me to follow up my sandwich with a dessert. 

I gently unwrapped what I call an aristocratic ice cream sandwich. While the weather was not ideal on that overcast day I dug in regardless. The sandwich was deviously good, while I am not a Hazelnut junkie I could easily imagine eating this on a weekly basis. I left with a smile on my face and wishing I was rich enough to go here on a weekly basis. 

In conclusion while expensive Pepe is a truck worth trying at least once. The quality of food you receive is better than any other fast food you can get. If you have a deep wallet try the Pepito de Iberico which at $20 is easily the most expensive item you can get in any food truck. You can also try his Sangria or Pepe Tonic which are non-alcoholic drinks! I skipped because I believe it is borderline blasphemous. Thankfully they accept credit cards so there is no need to bring cash. The service was on par and I guess I was lucky enough to not have to stand in a long line. So if you want to tour the 1% of food trucks then give Pepe a try. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Black & Orange

The run on burgers continues with a fan favorite. Black and Orange, formally known as Rogue States has come a long way in its short existence. Headed by chef Raynold Mendizabal Black and Orange has quickly risen to prominence winning this years Best Burger poll by Washington City Paper.

The road to prominence has been difficult for Black and Orange whose survival was in question a year ago. The establishment was originally called Rogue State Burger when it opened its doors in Dupont Circle a couple of years ago. Chef Mendizabal decided to use his years of culinary experience and test the waters by opening up a burger establishment in one of the most competitive markets for burgers.

The decision proved to a good one as the company gained massive popularity. It was at that time that I decided try these unique burgers with a couple of friends. Our guys night out started here when we all decided to see where they would rank among the other greats. Upon scanning the menu I decided to order the Pardon My French while my other three friends decided to play it safe and order The Rogue State. 

What sets Black and Orange apart from any other burger place is the emphasis placed on the seasoning of their burgers. Each individual burger consists of a patty that is infused with a number of ingredients that are intended to compliment each other. Toppings are added per the request of the customer so be aware that if you order a burger it will consist of a patty and bun. 

(Jayson eating The Rogue State)

The Pardon My French consists of a half-pound patty infused with black truffle oil and thyme. I decided to add brie cheese to add an extra dimension to the flavors and go with the French theme. I also placed an order of french fries which come with a number of flavored mayonnaise similar to that of Good Stuff Eatery. The burger was spot on, the flavors were all there, it was cooked to perfection and the brie added some extra pizzaz. I also sampled the Rogue State which consists of house spice blend, chipotle, and cilantro and was pleasantly surprised. 

I left with nothing but rave reviews and anticipation to try it again. I put off my next visit for a couple of months and was deeply saddened when they were forced to close because the fumes from their ventilation system were spewing into a law office. As you could probably tell that was the worst place to piss off anyone as they lawyers successfully managed to close the place down. 

(Pardon My French with Brie)

Chef Mendizabal was burdened with the task of installing a new ventilation system to in order to re-open shop. The cost of the system as well as the legal fees proved too much and the store closed for a long period of time. It looked for a while as though I would never get to sample one of these burgers again but luckily chef Mendizabal made a second great decision of re-opening shop and sharing his gift with DC. 

A week or so after it reopened word came out that they were also going to open up a second location on U St. which has been dying for an infusion of burger joints. Once my eyes set on this news I became elated. While the name changed the burgers stayed exactly as they were. I decided to visit the U St. location (pictured above) about a week into its existence. The decor and vibe were exactly the same and I actually got to meet chef Mendizabal and thanked him for reopening (sorry I didn't mention I was a food blogger, I don't like special treatment).

Per his recommendation I decided to try the No Burger No Cry which is on the spicy side. The patty consists of a house jerk blend, red onion, and habanero peppers to ratchet up the heat. While the burger was seasoned well it wasn't spicy at all but hey this comes from a person who puts tobasco or sriracha on just about everything. 

(No Burger No Cry)

Another perk to the U St. location aside from its proximity to my house is a burger that is only served there. Named Hair of The Dog this burger is a spin on a Bloody Marry. It consists of a patty which is blended with tomatoes, horseradish, and celery which is topped with Worcestershire mayo. I'm not the biggest Bloody Marry fan so I may never try this burger but I may be swayed. I highly recommend the Now and Zen which is my favorite of all the burgers I have had. This burger draws its flavors from the far east and blend together seamlessly. 

In conclusion Black and Orange lives up to its pedigree. The burgers are well flavored, the buns are solid and the fries are on par. The prices like most of DC are bit high but it is worth it especially if it is your first visit. They used to have a famous slogan of being open till 5 AM every day but they recently scaled back their hours, especially on the weekdays. My only gripe is that the wait can be a bit long from time to time and they have been known to mess up orders but who doesn't. So if you are in Dupont or U St after a long night of drinking brave the lines and give this place a shot. If you aren't a drinker come give it a try anyways because the line when you go will probably be a lot shorter.   

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pho 75

Now that the wretched season known as winter has become a distant memory I am forced to make my final rounds to sample as many soup shops as I can before the blistering summer months make one of my favorite types of food an afterthought. This takes us to Pho 75, a popular local chain that serves up bowl after bowl of this popular Vietnamese cuisine.

If you are unaware what Pho is then I would suggest you read my semi-detailed explanation here. If you are a Phonatic like me then you will surely appreciate Pho 75. With several locations across Northern Virginia Pho 75 has built a reputation of serving some of the best Pho in the DC area

(Photo via Yelp)

The décor is nothing to pout about. The two locations that I have tried closely resemble my middle school cafeteria. The plain white walls are adorned with a couple of pictures of Vietnam, the tables and chairs are purchased wholesale and each table comes with a hand full of spoons and chopsticks already there to use when your food is delivered.

But alas we are all aware of the famous saying to not judge a book by its cover and in this instance those words prove to be ring loud and clear. My first experience with this establishment came during my early days before I blogged about food and my knowledge of Pho was rudimentary at best. Now I am a bit more cultured and refined in this area of food and am constantly looking for the best Pho in the area. So it is only natural that I visit this establishment since they are constantly mentioned as having some of the best Pho.

My most recent visit came yesterday. It was a dreary overcast Sunday which is ideal weather for a piping hot cauldron of Pho. I drove across the wretched Key bridge into the nether regions known as Virginia. I tried my best to resist the cringe that engulfs just about any DC native when they cross the river but could not help shivering for a couple of seconds. I arrived at their Roslyn location as was immediately set back at what I thought was the line to Ray’s Hell Burger.

To this moment I am shocked at the line running out of the door. A combination of food deprivation, post St. Patrick's day hangover, and overcast weather made the wait unbearable at times. But within 10 minutes a table opened up and our server promptly handed us their menu which consists of 17 different variations which are served in a regular or large bowl.

It did take a bit of time to get the servers attention but we finally managed to flag him down. I decided to order the number 4 which consists of slices of round eye steak, well-done brisket, well-done flank, soft tenderloin, and bible tripe. A steaming hot bowl came out within minutes accompanied by the necessary accoutrement.

(Tai, Chin, Nam, Gan, Sach)

I methodically added the proportions of Sriracha, fish sauce, jalapenos, and bean sprouts that have taken months to master. Once my concoction was ready I began to dig in. The first thing that I noticed was how amazing the rice noodles were. The broth was also very flavorful and the various cuts of beef were superb. Each sip was as refreshing as the first and suddenly all my pains were eviscerated. I tried as mightily as I could to conquer the bowl but could not find the room to finish the entire dish.

Once we finished we took our time as Pho settled within our bodies, during which I continuously tried to stave off the food coma that was attempting to ruin my Sunday afternoon. I gathered myself after a few minutes and walked up to the register to pay. Please be advised that it is CASH ONLY which I was aware of. The total for two large bowls of Pho and two sodas came out to $20.50 which is a steal. I then returned home where I immediately succumbed to my food coma for about an hour or two which felt amazing.

All in all Pho 75 delivered on the hype. The Pho was great, the service was sub par and the atmosphere was an experience in an of itself. They have several locations around Virginia and are all cash only. It is widely popular so don't be as surprised as I was if you encounter a long line. There are a number of desserts and traditional Vietnamese drinks on the menu but no spring rolls or Banh Mi sandwiches which is a bit disappointing. I guess they do one thing good and they are sticking to it. So if you are in Virginia or are a Phonatic like myself give this place a shot and decide for yourself if they live up the hype.