Gypsy Soul: Grits

Gypsy Soul Grits

The doors to R.J. Cooper’s new restaurant are now open – beckoning people from the burbs to try his adventurous, eccentric cuisine. While most of the Gypsy Soul menu screams of the South, there are dishes that pull from other corners of the world like a Greek-inspired lamb neck entree which was mighty tasty thanks to tzatziki. And yet, this is the very first time in BTM history that a side dish stole the show.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Yellow corn grits with foraged mushrooms and preserved truffle should simply be called holy shit grits. The elevated crock of comfort food can be found under the “Heirloom Grains & Tubers” section of the menu. Our advice? Order two so you can take one home and eat it the next morning for breakfast/brunch. The mushrooms are fairy tale tiny, and then there are truffles. Truffles, truffles truffles.

Fried Chicken Cracklings

Other can’t miss dishes included a big bowl of fried chicken skin cracklings served with snake oil (don’t worry, it’s just hot sauce) and roof top honey; a crazy combination of bone marrow and sea urchin; and a confit pork dish that incorporated Oktoberfesty accoutrements like sauerkraut and a sweet pear butter.

We’re guessing your question is – should I hop in my car and head out there? Is it worth it? Answer: Yea, most def. If you can, try to make the trek from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield metro stop, so you can take full advantage of their cocktail program, which also involves inventive ingredients like an herbaceous marjoram popcorn syrup.

Grits not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Gypsy Soul is located at 8296 Glass Alley, Fairfax, Va 22031. 

Etto: Roasted Cauliflower Pizza

Etto Pizza

My father had a unique way of getting boys to steer clear of me in high school. Right before date night o’clock, he would send me to the local pizza joint to pick up his pizza. This sounds innocent enough – a man’s gotta eat. But, he insisted on his favorite topping each time: anchovies. That anchovy stench would seep deep into the seats of my Ford Focus. It even clung to my clothes and my hair. So naturally, I developed an aversion to anchovies that lasted until my most recent trip to Etto.

It was there that I tried the Best Thing on the Menu: Roasted Cauliflower Pizza with capers, pine nuts, anchovies and bread crumbs. The anchovies are so briny that no other salt source is needed, and they add just enough subtle funk to make the pizza memorable. Etto, after all, has a real love affair with these little fishies, as they also serve them as a part of their salads/small plate selections. But back to the pizza, which is like none other in the city (Except maybe 2Amys, which is from the same owners). What differs slightly is the dough and how it’s cooked.

The flour is milled in house. In fact, you can see the mill in the back of the restaurant. What results is a crust with billiard ball sized bubbles that you and your friends will fight over when divvying up slices (also just like high school). The restaurant recently opened up their sweet little patio, so there’s a better chance of getting a table and eating The Best Thing on the Menu al fresco. Also try Etto’s strong selection of small plates, they make a good warm up to the main event.

Roasted cauliflower pizza not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Etto is located at 1541 14th Street NW. 

You might also like Casa Luca or Lupo Verde.

Glen’s Garden Market: Loxy Lady

Loxy Lady

Glen’s Garden Market is more than a grocery store. It’s so alive, innovative and community-driven that it practically has a heartbeat. Danielle Vogel, owner and 4th generation grocer, is always dreaming up ways to make Glen’s more exciting, whether that’s a run club, craft beer garden party, or even bootcamp. There are many ways to enjoy this Dupont Circle market, one of which is stepping up to the sandwich counter in the back of the store and ordering The Best Thing on the Menu: Loxy Lady.

This is not the thin, somewhat slimy, overly orange lox you’ll find at a grocery store, or even a Jewish deli. Rather, between two slices of toasted rye, you’ll find full salmon fillets, dill chèvre, red onion and locally grown tomato. The salmon fillets are brined for 12 hours before being smoked and seasoned in house. It’s super smoky and provides for an incredibly fulfilling meal. In fact, it may have you subbing goat cheese for cream cheese forever.

Glen's

There’s another top way to glean the most out of Glen’s Garden Market: The last consecutive Thursday and Friday of each month, Chef Travis Olson, prepares a multi-course meal to be enjoyed around a communal table supper-club style. The stars of the meal are both the local produce and proteins Travis utilizes as well as his technique (he once cooked at the #1 restaurant in the world – Noma in Copenhagen!).

Click here for more pictures from the tasting table experience.

August 28 and 29 are already sold out. However, set a calendar alert because seats for September 24 & 25 (which are a Wednesday and Thursday this time around) go on sale September 1st at 10:00am. Visit http://glensgardenmarket.com/ or sign up to receive updates.

Loxy Lady not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Glen’s Garden Market is located at 2001 S Street, NW. 

Food Wine and Co.: Fried Tater Tots

Tots

Load up that SmarTrip card because Food Wine & Co. in Bethesda is definitely worth visiting. Chef Michael Harr pushes the boundaries just enough to have slightly daring food in the suburbs. That being said, The Best Thing on the Menu is not so fancy but still frickin delicious: Fried Potato Tots with Gruyere Cheese and Spicy Ketchup.

The tots are more like mashed potato squares than the typical basket weave tots you find at fast food establishments (or that Napoleon Dynamite subsists on). Chef Harr must spoon out the silkiest, smoothest mashed potatoes, lace them with cheese and drop them straight into the deep fryer – definitely not something to try at home. They’re comforting, funky thanks to the gruyere, and of course warm & gooey. Nevin Martell digs them too, and other tots in the area.

Calamari

For something a little more refined (but not quite as sinfully satisfying) opt for the grilled calamari appetizer because of its layered flavor profile. Chef Harr combines tender grilled calamari with arugula pesto, pickled raspberries, pine nuts, peppercress and croutons for crunch.

As far as entrees, you can’t go wrong with either their decadent truffle burger or the lamb burger topped with a biting tomato harissa jam.

Click here for more photos from the meal.

Fried Tater Tots not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Food Wine & Co. is located at 7272 Wisconsin Ave, Bethesda, MD 20814

Rural Society: Bife de Chorizo

Bife de Chorizo

Having demolished some delicious meals at Jose Garces’ flagship restaurants in Philly like Amada and Tinto, we expected big things from Rural Society. The restaurant is so damn handsome, you want it to take you on a date. It’s masculine vaquero cowboy chic, making it a setting where you want to manhandle some meat. Enter, The Best Thing on the Menu: Bife de Chorizo – a 12oz platter of Estancia grass-fed beef from Uruguay. Tom Sietsema digs it too, and for good reason.

Parilla

The ribeye is kissed by the flames of Rural Society’s already famous parilla, a wood-burning grill that is often the subject of patrons’ Instagram accounts. The outside of the Bife de Chorizo has an incredible sear, and the inside has just enough fat to speed up the melt-in-your-mouth experience. It doesn’t need any sauce, but if you’re so inclined (and if you brought dental floss) throw a few dabs of herbaceous chimichurri on top.

empanada

But before the steak course comes out, dabble in some starters like these Empanadas Tucamana. The Latin pierogies are stuff with braised Wagyu beef belly and smoked chile. For something a little lighter, try the octopus carpaccio or the morrones (which is not a Spanish word for morons). Morrones are a build-it-yourself stack of grilled bread, creamy eggplant spread, roasted red peppers and anchovies.

Bife de Chorizo not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Click here for a few more photos of the meal. Rural Society is located inside the Loews Madison Hotel at 1177 15th Street NW Washington, DC 20005.

You might also like Del Campo or BLT Steak.

KoChix: Hot Honey Spicy Wings

KoChix Wings

Beware BonChon, KoChix is addictive. A corner joint the size of a rich person’s walk-in closet is KILLING it at Korean-style fried chicken in Bloomingdale. Sure, the menu’s small too – but it doesn’t make the Best Thing on the Menu: Hot Honey Spicy Wings any less impressive. Hot honey spicy wasn’t even an original sauce option, but DC demanded something with a little more heat, and owners Karen and Young Park kindly obliged.

Karen Park

The wings come in orders as small as five and as ambitious as 40. As an added bonus, you can choose if you want wings, drums or a combination of both. If you’re on a diet, stop reading here. Otherwise, forge ahead to learn that the secret to these badass bones of bliss is that they’re fried twice. Your teeth cut through two layers of crackling breading before they hit any pollo, and the super sticky sauce is the kind of mess you want to find yourself in on a Saturday night.

Unable to get your wing-craving self to Bloomingdale? Fear not, KoChix is one of many sweet spots to join Caviar, a fun and reliable delivery service. If all of that gushing wasn’t enough to convince you to order a wing (or 40), here’s a ringing endorsement from one of DC’s finest food personalities.

Find KoChix at: 400 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

Please nominate Best Thing on the Menu as best local food blog. Voting closes Friday. Cheers!

Hot Honey Spicy not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

GCDC: Canadian Tots

Tots

Canada. They’re questionably good to us in the US of A. Even though their hockey players play in our National Hockey League, they get to jump ship when it really matters during the Olympics. Then there’s Lululemon, but even they’ve been in hot water due to “see through pants gate.” Enter poutine: A Canadian creation of true perfection originating in Quebec that consists of fries topped with a savory gravy and cheese curds. 

GCDC, the newish grilled cheese bar on Pennsylvania Ave, advances the dish in The Best Thing on the Menu: Canadian Tots. Instead of fries, flying saucer shaped tots are coated with cheese curds, a mushroom gravy and most importantly…bacon. That hint of smoke plus the crispy, squishy tater tot texture means they’ve one-upped Canada on this one.

GCDC

Since GCDC specializes in what’s between the bread, it’s worth noting that their best grilled cheese option is none other than the Kim-Cheese-Steak. This is NOT what results when Kim Kardashian heads to Philly for a cheesesteak. Rather, the sandwich gets its name from the kimchee that commingles with cheddar cheese and Korean-style roast beef. It’s vibrant colors and even more vibrant flavor will keep you coming back to this zippy fast casual spot that’s been crushing it since they opened. 

Canadian Tots not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

You might also like Bub and Pops or Stachowski Market.

Mintwood Place: Green Gazpacho

Green Gazpacho

When life gives you soggy humidity and 90 degree days…make gazpacho. Or, at least eat gazpacho. This summery, vegetable-forward soup hailing from Spain typically presents as striking red, and can be akin to slurping salsa. But, Chef Cedric Maupillier takes a different approach at Mintwood Place, yielding The Best Thing on the Menu: Cucumber & Watercress Gazpacho with Crab & Avocado.

You still get the punch of Latin flavors thanks to the guacamole and crab-like mound peeking out from the bottom of the bowl, but the harsh tomato and onion flavor of red gazpacho is replaced with cooling cucumber and herbaceous watercress. Black tobiko (poor man’s caviar) punctuates the top of the crab concoction, adding a playful Pop Rocks texture. You’ll find the green gazpacho in the starters section; get it while it’s hot (outside).

Mintwood Place Beef Tartare

Built like a hedgehog, the potato-spiked beef tartare is also a must-order. If you’re just starting your vampirific raw meat eating career, dabble in the appetizer portion. Veterans can go big by getting the entree. Either way, the meat is minced and seasoned perfectly, threatening what we had previously dubbed the best tartare in DC (the BTDC).

Flammekueche

A final dish worth noting is the Bacon & Onion Flammekueche. This paper thin pizza is bursting with breakfasty flavor is the perfect way to start a meal with friends because they cut it into easy-to-share rectangles. We think they should offer a $1 off your flammekueche if you can pronounce it right on the first try.

Green gazpacho not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

The Source Brunch: Turnip Cakes

Turnip Cakes

When you hear the words “Dim Sum,” the encyclopedia of food in your brain probably pulls up images (and smells) of rusty carts being wheeled around by ladies who MUST be centenarians peddling chicken feet in something gelatinous along with unidentified deep fried parts. At the very least, you think of chubby dumplings.

But, there are no carts at The Source’s Dim Sum Brunch, a truly special treat available on Saturdays at the restaurant abutting the Newseum. Furthermore, The Best Thing on the Menu is not a dumpling, nor some noodles. Rather, the BTM is a set of humble turnip cakes dressed only in Szechuan sweet soy sauce and some wisps of green onion.

Asian food is as much about texture as it is about flavor, and that’s why this dish steals the show. Each LEGO-sized square is the best kind of chewy – keeping your mouth occupied long enough for your dining companion to tell a story. Those who have avoided turnips at family dinners for decades need not worry, there’s hardly a harsh radish taste. All you taste is the tangy sauce and a bit of earthiness.

Chive Dumplings

Chef Scott Drewno’s menu gives you ample opportunity to explore, and for a price that’s somewhat of a steal. Try 5 tastes for $32 or 8 for $42. Other can’t-misses include the Shanghai Noodles because they’re potpourried with fragrant chills and savory bits of oxtail; either the duck or lobster bao buns (an order comes with two baos, just like our city’s favorite panda); and the crystal chive dumplings bursting with kurobuta pork and Maryland crab. Pork and crab = the best kind of surf n’ turf.

Click here for more pictures from the meal.

Turnip cakes not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Crane and Turtle: Sautéed Maine Scallops

Scallops

The doors to Crane & Turtle just opened, giving Petworth’s Upshur Street yet another upgrade. Benches outfitted in sea-colored upholstery  line the walls of this shoebox sized French/Asian restaurant from Paul Ruppert, and an ellipse of counter seats look into the busy kitchen. Its small size may be an adorable anomaly in this city, but in Japan (where charming corner cafes dominate) Crane & Turtle would fit right in.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Sautéed Maine Scallops with Chorizo Tapioca Dumplings, Arugula and  Gingered Coconut Foam is something you’d expect to see somewhere exquisite…like CityZen. Oh wait, Chef Makoto Hamamura was a fixture in that kitchen for seven years, so it all makes sense. He’s a true talent and now has a spot to call his own.

The scallop dish may just be the best thing we’ve eaten THIS YEAR. Perfectly seared scallops sit in a bubble bath of coconut foam and bitter greens where they are joined by tapioca dumplings stuffed with single pearls of chorizo sausage. The party of textures is divine.

Fish

Other top dishes on the menu include hay smoked crudos and cherry gazpacho with clams and kakiage. If it’s possible to have one gripe though, it’s with the “drunken fish” dessert. It’s presented like the traditional Japanese festival dessert called “taiyaki” which has now autocorrected to teriyaki ten times. Ahhhh. The treat is typically a piping hot fish-shaped pancake filled with a sweet red bean paste central to most Japanese desserts. Crane & Turtle’s take is a chilled taiyaki cake that’s been soaked in booze (very fitting for the summer months). But why the fig filling instead of adzuki beans? Fig seeds are gritty and turn the dish into a Fish Newton.

Click here for more pictures from the meal.

Maine scallops not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.