Green Pig Bistro: Cornbread, Maple Butter

Cornbread, Green Pig Bistro

Best Thing on the Menu ventured outside the district to sample some delicious meat at Green Pig Bistro in Virginia.  After a hard-fought day of fasting in preparation for a feast, we expected the BTM to be of the pork, beef or rabbit variety.  However, after placing our order at Green Pig Bistro, we became green with envy when we saw what other diners were noshing on.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Cornbread, Maple Butter actually appears under the “Sides” column! The impossibly dense, pound-cake like cornbread comes out adorably in a hipster-farm-chic skillet. In fact, hipster-farm-chic describes the entire menu and restaurant. Oh and by the way, it comes with an ice cream scoop of maple butter that tastes like it dripped down from Canada.

The cornbread will accompany any dish with its master’s degree in sauce absorption. We especially recommend it as a sauce-mopper for one of the more creative items on the menu, “Rabbit Cake, Sweet Potato, Brussels, Apple.” A spring explosion.

The rabbit cake, and likely the buffalo ribs, will get you out to Arlington for a visit to Green Pig Bistro. But, it’s the cornbread that will keep you coming back.

Cornbread, Maple Butter not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Le Pain Quotidien: Tuscan White Bean & Prosciutto Salad

Tuscan White Bean Salad

Best Thing on the Menu (BTM) makes a departure from the norm in this entry – by venturing into the realm of chain restaurants.  This is usually a trip not worth taking. However, a visit to a Le Pain Quotidien is a departure in and of itself. The rustic wood communal tables, shared jams and jellies, glasses of white wine in the afternoon and those delicious open-faced Belgian tartines can transport you to Europe for an hour or two. Even if you can’t say it (here’s help:  luh paN koh-ti-dyaN), a snack at this bakery and communal table establishment is the perfect post-yoga, mid-errand, slow-Sunday-morning retreat.

The BTM at Le Pain is a bit of an underdog: Tuscan White Bean & Prosciutto Salad with arugula, shaved Parmesan and basil croutons. The salty prosciutto combined with the funky, fresh parmesan and the over-the-top pungent basil make this dish a flavor explosion that evokes a summer picnic in Tuscany. The salad of course comes with Le Pain’s famous and hearty bread, so you’re not missing out on the bakery experience if you go the salad route. Don’t forget you can always purchase a whole loaf to take home.

Tuscan White Bean & Prosciutto Salad not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Zaytinya: Crispy Brussels Afelia

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Adventures in mezze at DC food magician José Andrés’ Zaytinya unveiled yet another vegetarian-friendly Best Thing on the Menu (BTM): Crispy Brussels Afelia. We promise BTM loves meat, especially rare meat. But, these seductive sprouts can convert even the staunchest of sprout haters, thus landing it as Zaytinya’s BTM.

The crispy, creamy, tart and tangy brussels sprouts can be found in the Hortariki (خضراوات) section of the menu, also known as Vegetable Mezze. They’re described as “brussels sprouts with coriander seed, barberries and garlic yogurt.” Barberries are most commonly used in Iranian cooking (where they are known as zereshk) and have been used medicinally for over 2,500 years, especially when related to the cardiovascular and neural systems.

Now back to the sprouts. Be sure to save some of Zaytinya’s warm, fluffy oblong-shaped pitas that arrive at the start of the meal to scrape up the garlic yogurt that lines the dish, or let loose and make sprouty sandwiches.

Zaytinya was one of the original restaurants to play into the hearts (and mouths) of small-plate-loving, variety-craving, dish-sharing Washingtonians.  A trip to the innovative Turkish, Greek and Lebanese tapas temple is not to be missed. Nor is the BTM!

Crispy Brussels Afelia not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Ping Pong Dim Sum: Spicy Basil Dumplings

dumplings

Ping Pong markets itself as brandishing “little steamed parcels of deliciousness,” and they’re not far off.  However, if you came looking for little Chinese grandmothers pushing carts of delicately-wrapped mystery meat, you’re in for a surprise. Ping Pong Dim Sum is a more modern take on the Chinese cuisine, which is actually most often served for breakfast. In Hong Kong,  restaurants start serving dim sum as early as five in the morning.

Also unlike traditional dim sum, vegetarians can leave Ping Pong Dim Sum well fed. Especially if they sample the Best Thing on the Menu (BTM): Spicy Basil Dumplings. They fall under the “fried and griddled” category on the extensive dumpling menu with the description of “basil & chili with rice noodles in wheat flour pastry, with vinegar dipping sauce.”  Who doesn’t love a carb stuffed with a carb? Doesn’t every country have a version of this winning combination, such as potato pierogies? Another tip: See if you can trick the server into letting you keep the tasty vinegar sauce for the rest of the meal.

Other favorites at Ping Pong include the honey roasted chicken puff and the char sui bun. But, chances are, you would have found your way to these items on your own.

Spicy Basil Dumplings not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Little Serow: Si Krong Muu

si krong muu pork ribs / mekhong whiskey / dil

If you’ve navigated the spicy, salty safari that is Little Serow, you know the Best Thing on the Menu (BTM): Si Krong Muu (pork ribs / mekhong whiskey / dill) is the very last dish. Repeat diners have learned to strategize and save room for these sweet, succulent, falling-off-the-bone pork ribs that have become a signature dish at the small hipster Thai restaurant on 17th Street. We are grateful week after week to see them remain the grand finale, while the rest of the menu undergoes weekly construction.

The BTM is worth the early-bird-special line-up that begins promptly at 4:30pm each night. The restaurant, while delicious, does not take reservations. This is a bit tough for the DC dining crowd to wrap its head around but frankly, the line is the best advertising you can’t buy.  If you don’t make the first seating, don’t give up. Chances are they’ll take you at 7:30 or 9:30 and the bars in the area are quite accustomed to watching customers wait for what an Agora bartender called “the text of magic.” When your table is ready, Little Serow texts you and you have ten minutes to get back to the restaurant and reclaim your rights to Si Krong Muu!

Si Krong Muu not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Sushi Taro: Spicy Spider

Spicy Spider Roll

One shouldn’t shy away from the delicately crafted, uncharacteristically-fresh-for-DC sushi and sashimi at Sushi Taro, unless it’s for the Best Thing on the Menu (BTM):  the Spicy Spider Roll. Their soft shell crabs are on steroids – fat and moist and screaming straight from the sea. Other local sushi bars disguise previously-frozen, meager crustaceans with lettuce and mayo, but there is no need for such trickery at the Taro. The burst of spice and perfectly-vinegared sushi rice serve as a tasty vehicle for getting the crab to your mouth.

If you have the time and the cash, the kaiseki is also BTM worthy, but not for those on a budget, tricky food preferences or who wish to fit into their skinny jeans the next day.  To survive an evening at Sushi Taro on the cheap(er), go for happy hour at the bar Monday-Friday (5:30-7:00pm) and load on up half price sushi, including the BTM of course.

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

What’s Next?

Estadio: Grilled Scallions

Grilled Scallions, Romesco & Idiazabal

Estadio, a spanish tapas eatery famous for its creative slushitos (boozy slurpees) and authentic fare, is located in Logan Circle. Some have a love/hate relationship with the joint because while it is the best tapas restaurant in DC, bar none, their reservations are limited. Unless you are willing to eat pre-theatre early, you’re not getting a reservation. At least according to try after try on OpenTable.

If you are lucky enough to get a seat at your own table, the communal table or at the bar, you shouldn’t leave before you get the Best Thing on the Menu (BTM): Grilled Scallions, Romesco & Idiazabal.

These grilled to perfection leeks are located in the “Verduras” section of the menu and appear unassuming. Perhaps the “maybe we should order something green” item. However, they are not to be missed. In one of the better episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Anthony travels to Spain and participates in Catalan’s Calçotada – a festival celebrating the harvest of calçots, known to us as scallions or leeks.

In Spain, the calçots are grilled over a flaming barbecue wrapped in newspaper, rendering them smoky and tender.  Festival goers peel away the really burnt layers, revealing tender bulbs to be dipped in Romesco sauce. Those who have seen the episode may recall him washing down the onions with copious amounts of red wine poured directly from a Porron wine pitcher.

Estadio gets so close to recreating the Calçotada all year round with the BTM. Their romesco sauce is smoky and sweet and you won’t even leave with onion breath.

Just for fun, here’s a recent article describing how to recreate Calçotada in your own backyard (even though most of us in DC don’t have a yard). We can dream.

Grilled Scallions not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.