Rasika West End: Palak Chaat

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Two is better than one. We’re so happy that Rasika West End was born last March, increasing the opportunity to eat DC’s best and most posh Indian cuisine. Rasika and Rasika West End sibling restaurants share most of the same dishes, but Rasika West End is bigger and boasts an outdoor seating area, which the Penn Quarter location is lacking. In a city obsessed with sidewalk dining, this may give West End the edge.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Palak Chaat Crispy baby spinach / yogurt / tamarind / date should come as no surprise. We would lose all credibility if we didn’t select Chef Vikram Sunderam’s crispy spinach delicacy that amateur chefs in DC have been trying to recreate since 2005. Our friends at local blog PoPville even bravely shared a recipe to help to recreate Palak Chaat at home. Cheers to the chefs at Rasika who are able to make something fried impossibly light and something sour incredibly sweet.

Rasika’s Palak Chaat was featured on WETA’s Guide to Fine Dining special. Click here to watch the special online. The Rasika portion begins at 42:40.  This packed one-hour episode of food porn is fit for all DC foodies to watch.

If you like Rasika’s Palak Chaat, we recommend you also try the Avocado Banana Chaat found in the same section of the menu.  The dish features perfectly ripe avocados and grilled bananas in a sweet and sour date chutney sauce.

Palak Chaat not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

 

Kellari Taverna: Calamari, Lightly Grilled

Calamari

Kellari Taverna is a squeeze of fresh lemon on an otherwise uninspired strip of restaurants on K Street. Their fresh fish display, giant cheese wheel perched on the bar and the grab-n-go cookies by the door are just a selection of the touches of authenticity at this expansive Greek seafood spot.

Whether for business lunch or pre-theatre dinner, Kellari’s Best Thing on the Menu: Calamari, Lightly Grilled will likely appear on all tables. We have chosen to emphasize “Lightly Grilled” because there is also a fried option. With calamari this fresh, frying would be a crime punishable by having to eat a Wendy’s fish sandwich.

These are the largest rings ever encountered in years of calamari-eating adventures. Who knew they could get so big? In searching for more information, we came across this gem of a video of a giant squid in its natural habitat from our friends at NBC and NHK News Japan.  Apparently, the colossal squid can reach measurements of 39–46 ft. long. Calamari from these Kraken-like cephalopods would likely produce calamari rings you could hula-hoop with.

Kellari Taverna’s fare is extremely fresh. The restaurant had prioritized farm-to-table procedures and selecting top indigents long before it was trendy. Another fun fact, Kellari Taverna can be found on seamless, so you can get the BTM delivered to your house. A source says they often send an actual waiter wearing his bow tie as the delivery guy.

Calamari, Lightly Grilled not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Agora: Mucver

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Agora, a primarily Turkish Mediterranean fusion restaurant on 17th Street doesn’t get the same fanfare as its neighbors like Komi and Sushi Taro (or even perhaps Mr. Yogato).  But, this underdog has more to offer beyond serving as a place to have a drink while you wait to be called by Little Serow. The menu is extensive and its small-plate-style warrants multiple trips to the restaurant. Plus, they have great patio seating for this time of year and an interesting collection of drinks such as ouzo, raki and retsina.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Mucver are shredded zucchini pancakes with mint, dill, scallions and manchego cheese served over caper yogurt sauce. These latke-like rounds will have Jewish grandmothers everywhere saying Oy Gevalt as no latkes are competition for these perfect pancakes. The only sad news is that they’re about the size of a sand dollar, so order more than one for the table. Yes, BTM went vegetarian yet again, but we can assure meat eaters that there is plenty to like on the menu, especially the braised lamb shank with eggplant-gruyére purée. The shank is incredibly smoky thanks to the restaurant’s wood-fire oven.

Fun fact: Lebanese Executive Chef Ghassan Jarrouj served as the personal chef for three US ambassadors to Lebanon in Beirut.

Mucver not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Mari Vanna: Siberian Pelmeni (пельме́ни)

pelmeni
Russian restaurant Mari Vanna is a welcome, quaint and quirky addition to Dupont Circle. It’s hard to believe that the brick country-kitschy interior that was the background to a lazy Sunday dinner also serves as a hot nightlife spot.  Especially since it has little in common with its cousin up the street, Russia House, except for the leggy hostesses and flavored vodka of course. It is something special to see an innovative Russian restaurant come to town. On the bottom of their menu, you’ll find a notice that you can receive a free vodka shot by checking in on Facebook. On Monday evenings, they appear to turn into some kind of Slavic speakeasy.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Siberian Pelmeni (пельме́ни) are small dumplings filled with mixed meat and made of unleavened dough. They are close dumpling friends with Ukrainian vareniki, also offered at Mari Vanna, and the Polish pierogi. The pelmeni, though vaguely resembling Chef Boyardee ravioli at first, are gamey, salty and delicious. They are served with sour cream (as are all dishes at Mari Vanna) and come in a small kettle. According to the School of Russian and Asian Studies, store-bought pelmeni are considered fast food in Russia and are associated with students’ or bachelors’ lifestyles, much like instant ramen.

Speaking of college cuisine, beer drinkers headed to Mari Vanna should note that although not on the menu, beer is available. A Russian insider explained that you order Russian beer by the number. The higher the number, the darker the beer. So, don’t be surprised when your server says they have 4, 8 and 9.

Siberian Pelmeni not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Hashi Sushi: Cherry Blossom Roll

Cherry blossom roll
Best Thing on the Menu celebrates cherry blossom season and this week’s Sakura Matsuri festival by calling attention to a roll of perfection. The roll comes to us from Hashi Sushi, a quaint two-story sushi joint in Georgetown that blurs the lines between traditional-style sushi (think slab of fish on rice) and new American sushi (think crazy rolls). They also offer ramen, which is certainly trending in DC right now, as those of you know who have stood in long lines at Toki Underground, Daikaya and others.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Cherry Blossom Roll contains shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, kaiware and seaweed salad. It is wrapped in an appropriately-pink soybean sheet and served with sesame sauce. The roll is unique in that you’re substituting a a soybean sheet for black nori and substituting soy sauce for a sesame vinagrette. It is a welcome alternative to the offerings at the Sakura Matsuri festival, which often consist of fried noodles and chicken satay disguised as Japanese food.

Though having recently lost their Osaka-born sushi chef to another restaurant, the roll quality at Hashi Sushi remains undisturbed.

Cherry Blossom Roll not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Cork Wine Bar: Avocado, Pistachios, Toasted Pistachio Oil, Sea Salt, Grilled Bread

Avocado
One can never go wrong with butter and salt, two crucial components of Cork Wine Bar’s Best Thing on the Menu: Avocado, Pistachios, Toasted Pistachio Oil, Sea Salt, Grilled Bread. The butter in this case comes to us in the form of avocado, which is spread richly and decadently across perfectly-toasted bread. I dare ask what goes on in the kitchen, as we imagine someone’s job is to ensure only the finest of avocados make it onto the plate. The dish really comes together, though, thanks to  the large grains of sea salt that are a perfect match for the buttery avocado.  Apologies to our friends with high blood pressure.

This dish may seem so simple, but several attempts to recreate it at home have failed. There isn’t a store-bought avocado that passes the test, leading us to believe that perhaps there is a black market for the ripe, flawless fruits.

It took a few months to get all of the Corks on 14th Street straight. There’s Cork Wine Bar, which we’re focusing on today as well as Cork Market and Tasting Room which is affiliated with Cork Wine Bar. These are not to be confused with Cork & Fork, a specialty wine and beer store, which by the way offers terrific classes on Thursday evenings.

If there is one gripe to be had with Cork Wine Bar, it’s that they ignore the flavorful adventure of new world wines. While they boast of their 50 wine-by-the-glass offerings on their website, new world wines are no where to be found. There are only French, Italian and Spanish wines available for sipping.  BTM would love to make a trip back to Cork and enjoy the BTM with a broody Malbec from Mendoza.

Avocado, Pistachios, Toasted Pistachio Oil, Sea Salt, Grilled Bread not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Boqueria: Albóndigas

albondigas meatballs
Boqueria came on the scene last year, giving Spanish tapas lovers a chance at an actual reservation (see Estadio entry). Their outdoor seating and sangria are a perfect combination for DC diners wanting to take in the first days of spring, which have turned out to be more like summer.

For a meaty tapa try The Best Thing on the Menu: Albóndigas. These lamb meatballs come in tomato sauce dotted with sheep’s milk cheese and fresh herbs. While delicious, these meatballs are also confusing. Albóndigas are traditionally Mexican and usually come in soup form. However, they are being served at a Spanish restaurant and they taste Italian. Who cares, the lamb gives them a stronger, earthier flavor than beef or pork ever could and you’ll find yourself ordering bread just to dip in the sauce until the last drop is gone.

Your check can add up on you pretty fast, especially if you order 4-5 tapas for a party of two, or if you go for one of their big-ticket items like paella. The good news is that it’s worth it.

A great way to enjoy Boqueria (which also has locations in New York and Hong Kong) is at lunch. A departure from tapas takes you to a creative salad and sandwich selection. All sandwiches, like the Bocata de Pollo (Grilled chicken, hazelnut romesco, walnut raisin bread) run for under $15 and come with a side salad and patatas bravas.

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

Out of Town Edition – Baume & Brix (Chicago)

Octopus

This is the first Best Thing on the Menu: Out of Town Edition.

BTM took a trip to one of the food capitals of the country – the windy, deep-dish city of Chicago. With one night to shoot for the culinary stars, BTM headed to newcomer Baume & Brix.

The concept behind Baume & Brix is that each item on the menu, including desserts, incorporates both sweet and savory flavors. The restaurant is appointed like most in Chicago, with a melting pot of exposed brick, industrial steel and polished wood – a terrific backdrop for a melting pot of a meal.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Octopus in the Style of Fun Dip was a treat. The sous-vide (the clever cooking technique involving vacuum-packed plastic bags) then grilled octopus comes ready to dip in three different powders. First you roll a tentacle in a small trough of olive oil, then you choose between a coconut lemongrass power, spicy curry powder and a smoky umami paprika powder. All are outstanding.

While not Alinea or Top Chef owned Girl & the Goat, Baume & Brix is creative, modern, unpretentious and elegant. Adorably, their menu is divided by Explore, Summit, Conquer and Divide.

Been to Baume & Brix in Chicago? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Zengo: Pork Carnitas Rice Noodles

Zengo Noodles
These noodles, tucked away in the bottom corner of the Zengo menu under “From the Wok,” have the holy flavor trinity of sweet, sour and spicy. The piercing acidity cuts through the runny messy egg that, when tapped, unfurls its yolk over a perfectly portioned pile of rice noodles dotted with chunky carnitas and flavorful veggies.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Pork Carnitas Rice Noodles  (pork / mushroom / cashew / egg / hot & sour sauce) comes in at a bargain price of $12 and if you use your imagination you can picture yourself purchasing the noodles from a very talented street vendor in Asia. The portion is also larger than all of the other Asian fusion tapas on the menu. Visit Zengo on your way to or from a game at the Verizon Center and plop down at the bar with an exotic cocktail and a pitcher of water to tame the spice.

Zengo is a Richard Sandoval restaurant so its DC friends include Masa 14, Ambar and El Centro. He also has several restaurants in Dubai! Traveling and want to visit a Zengo? They exist in Denver, New York and Santa Monica as well.

Another notable menu item are the duck tacos, which utilize lightly pickled daikon radish slices as the taco shell, making the dish gluten-free, paleo-friendly and probably any other fad-diet approved – unlike the official BTM which is not disguising its hit on your health.

Pork Carnitas Rice Noodles not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.