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.

Water and Wall: Duck Confit

Water and Wall Duck Confit

Water & Wall, the newish Virginia Square restaurant has some really solid, crave-worthy dishes. However, we came away from our first meal there with a little confusion.  We ordered beer but got a glass of wine offered only by the bottle. We arrived with excitement about the lambchetta advertised online, but couldn’t find it on the menu. We kept looking for the rest of the cocktail list, but they only offer three vodka drinks in an era when brown booze is the best. The last bit of mystery: Why would a restaurant with water in its name shun fish dishes and opt almost entirely for the world’s fattiest cuts of meat (pork belly, short ribs, sweetbreads,..)?

The Best Thing on the Menu: Duck Confit with Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Truffle Aioli and Cider Gastrique fits squarely in the world’s fattiest cuts of meat category, but we don’t care. You’ll pick up that bone with zero to no shame to carnivorously grab every last shred of caramelized meat. There’s a glossy, sticky candy like quality to the duck, which gets offset by the creaminess covering the fried Brussels sprouts. This is the best duck confit dish in the DMV bar none.

Water and Wall Chicken Wings

Water & Wall is Chef Tim Ma’s second restaurant. The engineer-turned-chef’s first spot, Maple Ave is known for its chicken wings, among other tasty things. We’re glad to see the wings made their way onto the menu at Water & Wall too. They’re covered in crème fraiche and Korean red chili paste.

We’ll be back for brunch because that menu looks a little more inspired with its Eggs & Kimchi, Venison Omelet and Pumpkin Buttermilk Pancakes.

Duck confit not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Birch and Barley Brunch: Freshly Fried Donuts

Birch & Barley Donuts

Despite the brunch mammoth Le Diplomate setting up shop two blocks over, you still have to bang down the doors to brunch at Birch & Barley, and for good reason! If you score a scrumptious table, immediately look to the menu’s sidebar under “sweets.” It’s there that you will find the Best Thing on the Menu: Freshly Fried Donuts. You get three per order (two biggies and a donut hole). The flavors?  Toffee-Bacon, Lemon-Poppy Glazed and Bittersweet Chocolate.

Making Donuts

Let’s hone in on the toffee-bacon delight. It’s savory/sweet and sticky enough that your fingers will feel like you were doing arts and crafts with toddlers all day. But you weren’t, you were indulging on a serious donut that will change the way you feel about this humble pastry forever.

Other brunch menu standouts at Birch & Barley include the corned beef hash, whiskey French toast and a side of PA-style scrapple (mmmmm pork mush).

If you really dig the donuts at Birch & Barley, there’s no excuse for failing to try GBD. There, you’ll find donuts from the same mastermind, Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac, AND fried chicken. They have a maple bourbon glazed donut also topped with bacon, plus a PB&J donut that revolutionizes the elementary school lunch original.

Freshly fried donuts not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Bar Charley: Jiro Dreams of Sidebar

Bar Charley's Jiro Dreams of Sidebar

It’s a showdown of food vs. beverage at Bar Charley.  If your experience is anything like ours, you’ll be impressed by both and it’ll be hard to decide which program comes out on top. We went for the cocktails but were impressed by the food, which led to more cocktails and then you guessed it, more food.

When you visit this cozy new cocktail den located next to Lauriol Plaza, be sure to order the Best Thing on the Menu: Jiro Dreams of Sidebar – Wasabi, Ginger, Shochu, Rice Vinegar and Nori.  It’s sushi in a glass. Other top cocktails? The Stepdad if you’re in the mood to be dramatic or tiki drinks on tap if you’re feeling fratty.

Ask for Paul Martinez behind the bar, he’ll craft you a killer cocktail and look for a beaming blonde out on the floor, that’s Jackie – one half of the dynamic duo of restaurateurs that also brought you El Chucho.  

The food menu is a trip around the world: An Indian chaat, German frankfurters, tapas-like anchovies on toast with marrow butter, some kind of Nordic cheese and a New England lobster roll. Finish off your sampling of small plates with a go-big-or-go-home dish for the table.

Bar Charley Whole Fish

The whole grilled fish is served with fennel, grape jam and potato puree. Feeling more like meat? No problem, get the grilled steak for two served with fries & kimchi ketchup and a compressed duck sauce.

The good news continues: Bar Charley is now open for brunch! So resist the urge for flavorless fajitas and head a few doors down for creativity, quality and value.

Jiro Dreams of Sidebar not your BTM? Post your favorite (food or drink!) in the comments section.

Ghibellina: Gnocchetti con Pesto di Cavolo

Ghibellina Gnocchi with Kale Pesto

It’s no secret that Americans have been sustaining a healthy obsession with kale since the super food became a super trend in 2012. Chances are, you’ve had a friend, neighbor or yoga instructor climb onto a leafy-green soapbox to tell you why you should be eating kale … every day.

You’ve probably heard that it’s one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat, can help reduce your risk of certain cancers, and packs in fiber without the calories. Kale me crazy, but what we’d like to throw in there is that it’s cheap, affordable and most importantly, versatile. Virgin kale consumers don’t have to dive into the deep-end by sticking a straw into a raw green smoothie. There are plenty of more palatable ways to sneak kale into your diet.

Enter Ghibellina, the 14th Street newcomer and the Best Thing on the Menu: Gnocchetti con Pesto di Cavolo. Gnocchi as light and fluffy as a Four Seasons down pillow come adorned with kale pesto, walnuts and taleggio. While it’s fun to cut pizza with scissors (one of the better gimmicks we’ve seen in a while),  we were more excited about the kale pesto as a fun take on an Italian classic. The BTM comes in two sizes, so you can enjoy it as an appetizer and still get the full experience of using sheers to slice your main-course pizza pie. We found a gnocchi with kale pesto recipe if you’d like to give it a whirl at home.

Ghibellina was in the same 14th Street draft class as Etto and Le Diplomate, and is faring extremely well. It fits that the Italian gastro pub serving up Tuscan cuisine has found a niche for itself doing happy hour, since the majority of the restaurant is bar seating, with only a few tables tucked away. Their fantastic happy hour is offered Tuesday-Sunday from 4:30-6:30 p.m. and specials include 1/2 price pizzas, Imperial Pints (20oz not 16oz) at $3.50-$4.00, $5 wines and $6 specialty cocktails.

We look forward to trying Ghibellina for brunch because we love the quirky nature of an Italian joint serving Challah French Toast.

Gnocchetti con Pesto di Cavolo not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

If you liked this, you might also like: Firefly and Urbana.

Westend Bistro: Pan Roasted Salmon for 425 Calories

Westend Bistro Low-Cal Salmon

Washington is a city that revolves around dining – Maybe you’re a 20-something with an insatiable hunger for networking and small plates, or a lobbyist lunching with gentle persuasion on K Street, or just a good friend being dragged to yet another non-profit fundraiser happy hour complete with “heavy apps.” This is all before the weekend hits and we know DCers live to brunch. With all this eating, our waistlines are bound to take a hit that even the most aggressive CrossFit WOD or death-defying pole dancing class can’t fix.

Enter Westend Bistro, an oasis of delicious healthy food in a vast desert of trending devilish indulgences. We left our meal guilt-free and extremely impressed. The Best Thing on the Menu: Pan Roasted Salmon with Three Lentil Salad, Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette, Olive Tapenade and Sundried Tomato Pesto appeared in the much appreciated “Bistro Light” section of the menu, accompanied by other mid-section mindful meals. This small portion of the menu includes calorie counts, eliminating the guesswork and mystery. The acidity of the salmon’s accompaniments hid the fact that little to no butter was used, and the plate was so colorful that it added to the satisfaction.

Salmon wasn’t the only fish that stood out at Westend Bistro. Chef Devin Bozkaya‘s passion for poisson was quite apparent and we’re not surprised by his marine mastery since his career began in Anchorage, Alaska and continued on to Seattle, Washington. The Tuna Carpaccio was an actual magic trick. It appeared to be one impossibly thin slice of tuna rather than the small circular slices one is accustomed to. The Pan Roasted Bass with Mushroom Risotto, Lemongrass and Coconut Sauce and Baby Bok Choy was another winner.

Westend Bistro Carpaccio Westend Bistro Bass

The Ritz-Carlton restaurant is also a respite from the small-plates craze. With great gusto we each chose the ONE dish that struck our fancy. Committing felt good again.

Pan Roasted Salmon not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.