Casa Oaxaca

oaxaca.jpgWhen it comes to Mexican restaurants, I have learned that I can usually come to expect certain things. These include gloppy, soggy food, over-priced margaritas, and a huge cheese factor (both in decor and as a topping to the previously mentioned gloppy, soggy food). After visiting Lauriol Plaza, Guapos, and Cactus Cantina, I’ve become weary of DC’s Mexican restaurant offerings, whose crappy food makes it difficult to tell the difference between a tortilla and a tort.

With that in mind, I generally avoid Mexican restaurants, feeling that I can make better tacos, and Drew can make better burritos, than we have ever found in a restaurant. However, an interesting review in the Washington Post Magazine a couple of weekends ago, coupled with a pretty great recommendation from a friend of Mexican descent led us to Casa Oaxaca, a new restaurant in Adams Morgan supposedly known for its “authentic” Mexican food. I put my general aversion to Mexican restaurants aside and decided to give it a shot.

Upon walking in to the restaurant, I was definitely encouraged by the appearance of the place. Offering rich colored paint and a cozy atmosphere, Casa Oaxaca was definitely inviting, not overwhelming like other Mexican places. Just the right volume of tasteful salsa music played in the background.

We arrived at 7 and were the only people there–it quickly filled up though, and by 7:30, the dining room was about half to 3/4 full. I was with a party of 4, so we had enough space at our table. Other people in groups of two seemed a bit squished. You’ll probably want to make a reservation if you go on the weekend.

Greeted by a plate of jicama rather than tortilla chips and salsa, I even became a little excited as we sat down. I ordered a house margarita. It was delicious. I had another. At Casa Oaxaca, there’s a tequila list the size of many restaurants’ wine lists–I just stuck to the house offering, though.

We all shared the kekas for an appetizer — small blue corn quesadillas with huitlacoche, poblano pepper, and pork carnitas. These were really good and were one of my favorite parts of the meal. I’ve heard the plantains are excellent as well, but not being a big plantain fan, I can’t say for certain because I didn’t eat them!

I guess the thing at Casa Oaxaca is their moles, or different sauces. I decided to try the tres moles, which is a chicken breast with all three moles–yellow, green, and brown–served on top. The review in the Washington Post magazine describes the chicken breast as a “palette” for the moles, and I like this description. The chicken breast, while moist and tender, was definitely secondary to the moles. The moles looked beautiful, and I liked the idea of trying all of them together. But, to be honest, I found them a little bland. I was hoping for some more punch with these sauces. My favorite was the yellow mole, but even that left something to be desired. The brown mole, especially, lacked flavor. In reality, the side of black beans left more of an impression on me than the main course–these were absolutely delicious! My friend Lindsey ordered a chicken breast with the brown mole and it looked very average. Drew had the enchiladas, and said they were just “eh”– nothing special. Drew and our two friends had some flan for dessert. I don’t really care for flan, so I passed and had another margarita instead! The dessert looked pretty good though.

Overall, my experience at Casa Oaxaca was a positive one. The service was great, the drinks were very good, and the decor created an inviting atmosphere where you can actually enjoy conversation with people at your table, unlike loud noisy places such as Zaytinya. Also, for a barhopping crowd, the location couldn’t get any better, as it’s located just a stone’s throw from all of Adams Morgan’s most popular bars. I would much prefer Casa Oaxaca to any other Mexican restaurant I have tried in DC. So I guess in a relative sense, Casa Oaxaca is a standout in its genre, and shows that Mexican food need not always be a gloppy mushy mess. However, compared to DC restaurants in general, I wouldn’t say that this place is anything extraordinary. It was also a bit annoying that I paid $17 basically for a boneless chicken breast with some sauce on it–something that feels like I could make at home for about $1. Would I go back? Sure. Would I seek it out over other places? Nah.

Overall Rating: C+

Other Reviews:

Chowhound

DC Dining Blog

DC Fabulous

Washington Post Express

Heading to DC Coast with my parents this weekend. Anybody been?

Zaytinya–An Update

After my first experience at Zaytinya back in March, I have since gone back and would like to change my opinion of the place.  My biggest problem with Zaytinya this summer was the atmosphere. I went with 4 of my friends, and we had a reservation. The waitress sat us at a HUGE table, probably meant for about 8 people. We sat in a different part of the restaurant than we did the last time, and the acoustics were terrible–I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying at the table. I felt like I was in a warehouse. It was unfortunate.

Onto the food.  I didn’t really like what I had. Everything seemed sort of pedestrian, and I wasn’t really excited by much. Neither were our guests. I stick by what I said the last time–the best part of the meal was the unlimited pitas.

Anyway, I won’t be going back to Zaytinya anytime soon.  I’m changing my original rating of B+ to C+.  I’d rather go almost anywhere else than here.

Firefly

firefly.jpgWe’ve taken a bit of a hiatus here….but we’re getting back down to business.

Friday night Drew and I went out to Firefly here in Washington, DC–next to the Hotel Madeira near Dupont Circle.

Upon walking in to the restaurant, I was really excited. The atmosphere was unique–there is a huge tree in the center of the dining room with lots of little lanterns hanging from it. This, with the dozens of little candles lighting up the room, helped create a very warm atmosphere, set off with just the right kind of jazzy-modern music playing in the background.

The restaurant is pretty small, so I would definitely recommend making a reservation. I thought the smallness was quite cozy, but by the end of our meal, I found myself distracted checking out the orders of the people next to me (which looked quite tasty!)

As for the menu, it’s small, but isn’t lacking in variety. It ranges from an “urban” picnic to several fish plates, beef, chicken, and pork. There is even a mini pot roast and a seared tuna sandwich (there’s a PDF of the dinner menu here, however, it seems to be old and isn’t actually the menu you get in the restaurant!). The wine list was extensive, but also expensive, so we passed on the wine.

So, getting down to the good part—the food. We shared the mussels appetizer, a favorite for both Drew and me. They looked and smelled fantastic–served with red onions and dill. The flavor was also good, but unfortunately, the mussels were very gritty and sandy. There were also a few in our pot that looked suspicious. Really, they were pretty bad, and I wanted to send them back. Mussels are something that you just can’t enjoy unless they are perfect. That was a big disappointment.

Despite the sub-par appetizer, we had high hopes for our entrees, and Drew wasn’t disappointed. He had the mackarel special, served with apple butter sauce and some kind of vegetable. It was out of this world and I was jealous that I didn’t order the same thing! My entree was also very good–halibut served with potatoes and brussel sprouts in a brown sauce that tasted like bacon. The fish was cooked perfectly and was very good. I did not care for the brussel sprouts, and the potatoes were pedestrian. The sauce was interesting, but it was a little too overpowering for me–at times I almost thought I was eating a plate full of bacon.

We rarely order dessert, but couldn’t resist the hot apple crisp. It was delicious–crispy crumbles on top, soft and warm apple pie filling on the inside. Absolutely fantastic.

As for the service, it was sub-par. Nothing extraordinary happened, but we had a waiter who was never there when we needed him (he took away our empty drink glasses and neglected to refill them for a pretty long time) and was always there when we didn’t want him to be–just as we were in the middle of eating or a great conversation, he would show up and interrupt. It was unfortunate.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Firefly, whose decorative touches, including soft lighting, jazzy music, and a firefly theme (the check was served in a jelly jar with a twist-off lid with holes poked in it), made for a unique and romantic dining room. However, beyond Drew’s entree, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the food.

Overall grade: B+  Those sandy mussels left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Frommer’s Review

Washingtonian Review

Chowhound Review

DC Brunch Club Review

The Reef

Some places were only meant to serve one purpose.

The Reef is one of them.

The Washington Post writes about The Reef:

There are many reasons to like the Reef: 14-foot-high windows overlooking 18th Street, the enormous rooftop deck, an outstanding all-draft beer selection, the lack of a dress code or cover charge.

Another reason to visit The Reef is that they “plan [their] menus with a few principles: organically-grown seasonal vegetables, free-range poultry and meats, and fair-catch seafood.” Eating/Drinking with a conscience. Nice Touch.

However, I can safely say that “breakfast” is a reason to not like The Reef.

Having been to the Reef, located in the heart of the bar district in Adams Morgan, many times at night for cocktails, my friends and I decided to give it a shot for brunch one Sunday morning. After trying to get in to The Diner (also in Adams Morgan) and being told there would be a 90 minute wait, the huge “BRUNCH” sign in The Reef’s window looked pretty tempting. I distinctly remember asking my friends “Hey, it’s only brunch. How bad can it be?”

I quickly realized that I never should have asked that question. As it turns out, brunch can be pretty terrible.

Before I begin ranting about my terrible breakfast experience at The Reef, I have to note that the place is a pretty cool nightclub/bar. Decorated with massive fish tanks everywhere, The Reef boasts a great selection of tap beers and tasty cocktails. The roof deck is fantastic in the summer, and overall I would say it’s a fun and trendy place to go on the weekend for a couple of drinks. The fact that there’s no cover to get in is also very attractive.

That being said, DO NOT GO TO THE REEF FOR BRUNCH. This was by far the worst breakfast experience I have ever had in my entire life. I didn’t know that it was possible to significantly screw up an egg sandwich. But believe me, eating at The Reef made me wish I had stayed home and cooked myself.

My 3 friends and I walked into the restaurant and were seated at a table. There were a couple of folks sitting at the bar, and maybe one or two other tables had customers. Otherwise the place was empty. Maybe we should have taken this as a sign to leave immediately. Unfortunately, we stayed.

It took at least 20 minutes for anyone to come over and bring us menus. The menu only had a couple of choices on it, and none of them sounded great. I opted for some sort of egg sandwich with eggs, cheese, and taylor ham. The menu said it was served on french toast with syrup. That sounded pretty gross to me, so I asked if I could substitute plain toast. the waiter said it was no problem. My friend ordered the same thing as me, only without meat.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. It took at least an hour (I think maybe longer) for the waiter to come back with our food! When the food arrived, everything was wrong. My sandwich came slathered in syrup on french toast, and my other friend’s meal came covered in bacon when she’s a vegetarian. When we told the waiter we were unhappy with our meals and with the amount of time we spent waiting, he didn’t even apologize or offer to fix it. I believe he just said “oh” and walked away to watch a game that was on TV.

The food was terrible. The service was beyond terrible. I don’t know what else to say about this place except don’t go there for breakfast.

Grades–

For breakfast/brunch: D

For a nightclub: B

I will never go back to this place.

Tracking the Food Journey: Google Maps

I added a new feature to our blog today–Google MyMaps. This is a great new feature Google is offering that allows any old schmo to create a customized Google map–requiring absolutely no programming skills whatsoever.

I’ve added all the restaurants we’ve reviewed to a Google map so you can track where our food adventure takes us. Check it out:

High on the Hog Google Map

I also added this link to our blogroll for easy access.

The Downtown Lounge

The DTLHave you ever thought to yourself, “Hey I didn’t eat anything for dinner tonight?!” or perhaps, “I think I have had so many beers it may be impossible for me to stand…ever.” And yet sometimes both of those things happen at the exact same time.

This past weekend I was up in “P-TOWN” (that is what we Mainers call Portland)(and no, not Portland OR, Portland, ME!). I was on one of those hook-up-with-the-boys and get-your-drink-on type weekends. Certainly food was the last thing on our minds. But as the immortal Jon Faverau said, “Big dog’s gotta eat!”

So after arriving on Friday evening we downed a few good brews I had brought from Mass – The immortal choice for those at the bar who are driving home, the Wachusett blueberry and a four pack of one of my all time favs the trois pistol (so good I can’t pronounce it). Anyhoo, after we found ourselves a few sheets to the wind and in a cab bound for the downtown my buddy, “the bird”, suggested that we go to The Downtown Lounge. To my surprise this jived with my friend Mike, who has an incredibly discriminating pallet. His approval was odd to me because if my memory serves me right the last time he let the bird pick our meal we were poisoned by a McFlurry somewhere in Germany. But that is another blog.

The Downtown Lounge is definitely a place for young hipsters and on a Friday it had just the right amount of people who wanted to be seen and those who were having too much fun to care. We bellied up to the bar and for once in my life I actually found a place to sit. We ordered a round of PBR bottles ASAP and that was a choice that paid off. For those of you who do not know, PBR won a contest making it America’s best beer in 1893 and is currently sometimes sold tasting like the keg was brewed that same year. To be honest I like my PBR on a frozen lake or when I am doing other manly things like cuttin’, choppin’, or haulin’. But the greatness of the PBR bottle is something you tend to only discover that you like when you are wasted, doomed soon forget. Also the simple reason that they were being sold at the rock-bottom price of 2$ it made them taste so much better.

After a few beers we got a booth and the whole ambiance of the place won me over. Small but with classic matching cushy booths and barstools it seemed like a 50s diner filled with high class hippies. I loved it. The service made it all the merrier as our waitress kept the beers coming despite our obvious steadily declining state. She also sat down with us and mentioned the fact that we might need some food! We had no idea what to order so she looked around the table, read our surely blank minds, and decided on three entrees just like that. She ordered us the fajitas, chicken wings, and antipasto. The food was decent but I am a man that needs to be fed and for me the portions were a bit on the meager side. The antipasto was by far the best, as I wondered what other person in the world enjoys a good PBR and prosciutto.

Well despite arriving early we ended up closing the place down. We did not make a scene but the bird managed to break a bottle and mishandle roughly 5 others, leaving the busboy perhaps doomed to a lifelong state of alertness. Luckily the 5 cents that we cost them did not show up on the bill. In fact we got 15 PBRs and three meals for around 50$. A great way to end any night! (Despite the fact that the girl the bird was talking up left with a guy that had a chin strap that’s just wrong)

So if you are looking for a place that most likely is filled with people a bit cooler than you but has great prices and super friendly confines, I recommend stumbling into The Downtown Lounge. If you are just looking for a good time, call Mike and the Bird.

Final Grade: B

check out these photos and other reviews

photos

Maine Today

Boston Globe

Sorriso

sorriso.jpgSorriso is definitely one of Washington, DC’s gemstones. I’ve been here 3 times in the past 2 years, and absolutely love this place.

Tucked in with a group of restaurants at the top of the stairs to the Cleveland Park Metro, Sorriso’s location is super convenient–not only is it easy to get to, but the Irish pubs and bars along CT Ave. provide tempting post-dinner entertainment.

I’ve been to approximately 1 million Italian restaurants in my lifetime (not exaggerating, I swear), and Sorriso is one of my all-time favorites. The menu offers a lot of variety, from typical Italian dishes drenched in tomato sauce (“gravy” where I’m from) and cheese, to brick oven pizzas, and wonderful seafood.

One of my favorite dishes on the menu are the mussels. Served as an appetizer, a generous portion makes for a great dish to share with a group of people. You can get them marinara or butter-and-garlic style. I’ve had both, and they’re both fantastic.

Another favorite dish I’ve had at Sorriso is the beef carpaccio. Served raw, it’s packed with flavor, and feels light and fresh. This would be a great thing to have on a summer day.

Aside from the appetizers, I’ve tried various pasta and seafood dishes at Sorriso, and all were wonderful. I’ve never had the pizza, but the restaurant boasts a wood burning brick oven, and the pies look delicious. Overall, I would say the menu is generally affordable, but definitely not cheap, which gives incentive to try out some new dishes.

Another great thing about Sorriso is the wine list. Affordable and offering lots of options, you’re sure to find a great wine here. The wait staff has generally been very helpful in giving me advice about which wines to pair with which items on the menu.

The atmosphere at Sorriso is busy, but somehow it still feels personal and comfortable. One word of caution…if you visit Sorriso anywhere in the vicinity of a weekend, be sure to make a reservation. The restaurant is relatively small, and fills up quickly. The one time I neglected to make a reservation, the waitress stuck my mother and I at a tiny table near the bar, right in the pathway of all the servers–that was less than optimal. So definitely make a reservation and I would recommend trying to grab a seat upstairs rather than downstairs–it’s a bit more roomy and less hectic.

Overall, Sorriso is one of my favorite places in DC, and it’s a little bit under the radar. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good Italian restaurant here in the district.

Grade: A-

Check out these reviews for more info:
Washington City Paper

Washington Post

DC Food Blog