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.