Agua 301: Pork Belly al Pastor

Agua 301 Pork Belly Taco

If Hawaii and Mexico had a baby, a perfect baby, it would be this taco. The Best Thing on the Menu at Agua 301 is undoubtedly: Pork Belly al Pastor. Three succulent tacos filled with crispy fried pork belly, pineapple habanero salsa, al pastor aioli, salsa de arbol arrive at your table glistening with an entrancing glaze.

As if the world’s most perfect protein needed any help…Chef Antonio Burrell lightly breads and fries the belly, which has already been slow-cooked to optimal tenderness. The pineapple habanero salsa is what transports you directly to a Hawaiian luau, where the pig of the party is cooked underground to an equal level of deliciousness. Hopefully by men in ridiculous outfits.

Berry Mezcal Cocktail

If picking the right margarita has always been a problem for you, we’re here to help. The Humo en el Agua (translation Smoke on the Water) is the right choice. This pomegranate margarita made with Fidencio Classico, Pama Liqueur, pomegranate juice, and fresh squeezed lime juice. Fidencio Classico is key because it’s mezcal, and thus delivers smoke. Typically mezcal is paired with citrus fruits, but here’s hoping that the smoke and berry combination is a new trend. Mezcal is one of my favorite things right now, with its notes of beef jerky and peat. Fair warning though, mezcal is a gateway drug to scotch because once you go smoky, toasty, roasty  – you never go back.

Apple Pie Empanadas

Finish the evening at Agua 301 with Chef Burrell’s apple empanadas. They’re stuffed with his mother’s good old-fashioned apple pie recipe. You’ll undoubtedly be choosing between these and the churros. Choose these.

All and all the tacos and the guacamoles (with bacon!) steal the show at this new spot in the Navy Yard. They outshine the entrees and will be perfect before or after a Nats game come spring. Click here for more photos.

Pork Belly al Pastor not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Taan Noodles: Duck Ramen

 THIS RESTAURANT CLOSED EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2014.

Taan Noodles Duck Ramen

Pork is overplayed when it comes to the meat component in most ramen. Taan Noodles takes it to the next level by going with duck confit that falls right off the bone and into your broth. The Best Thing on the Menu: Taan Shoyu Duck Ramen also contains pickled cucumbers, dashi tomato, scallions, shiitake mushroom, spicy mustard greens, crispy shallots, taan hanjuku tamago (pink egg!) and bamboo shoots.

Think fowl are foul? No problem, there are plenty of pork belly bowls to go around inside this Adams Morgan noodle shop. Like heat? They hook you up with togarashi spice flakes and spicy sesame oil, so you blast off your taste buds if that’s your thing.

Taan Noodles Okonomiyaki

If you’re ravenous and in need of a snack before your bowl arrives, there are a handful of appetizers that pull from Japanese, Chinese and Thai cuisines. The best pick here? Japanese okonomiyaki, the traditional street food of Osaka. Having downed many of these fish pancakes from street carts in Osaka, I’m a tougher critic than normal. While the sauces were nailed (Japanese mayo and savory brown sauce) the fish to cabbage ratio could have been more generous. Daikaya has a cool take on this classic.

Unlike their friends Sakuramen down the road, these folks have booze. More importantly, they have a lot of fun with their booze. We loved Second Place is not First Place (the perfect drink while watching the Olympics at the bar) made with Bulleit Bourbon, grapefruit juice, Barenjager and togarashi spice as well as There are Hippies in Asia – a tasty concoction of Nolet’s Gin, lavender vanilla simple syrup, tonic and lavender spice bitters.

Taan Shoyu Duck Ramen not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Don’t miss a bite: Keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter. You might also like Toki Underground and Zentan.

Proof: Duck Confit with Scallion Hush Puppies

Proof Duck Confit

Proof is so much more than the place foodies eat before a Caps game. It’s a dining destination all on its own. The wine and food programs seem to compete for the role of the lead dancer. Is Proof a wine bar with food or a gastronomical, food-focused delight that has a solid wine list? Whichever you decide to be true, don’t order a beer here. It just wouldn’t be fair. We recommend an Oregon pinot from our favorite winemaker Patricia Green.

Back to the food from Haidar Karoum. The Best Thing on the Menu: Warm Duck Confit with Scallion Hush Puppies, Pickled Beech Mushrooms and Tomatillo Salsa Verde is rich, bright and light at the same time. The tart tomatillo salsa cuts the confit – you know duck cooked in duck fat. What could be better?

We’ve also never met a hush puppy we didn’t like. Some of our favorites are at Garden District and Lincoln. Proof’s hushies are a little on the lighter side, with very little grease and some tangy onion flavor.

Proof

There’s another dish on the menu that made a real impression. Let’s say you’re Santa Claus fueling up for a trip around the world. Or, Rob Ryan. Or Rex Ryan pre-weight loss surgery. Order the Cassoulet of Duck Confit, Crispy Pork Belly & House Made Duck Sausage. The meatiest, manliest entree we’ve ever seen with a calorie count that is likely higher than the entire contents of a Cold Stone Creamery. Order it anyway.

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

Zentan: The Other Side of the Menu

If you haven’t visited Zentan recently, you haven’t experienced Zentan reloaded. Executive Chef Jennifer Nguyen who has experience at Pod, Buddakan and Morimoto in her back pocket has turbo-charged and transformed the menu with innovative takes on classic Japanese cuisine.

Hamachi Sashimi

Hamachi Sashimi

Two years in Japan taught us that there is so much more to Japanese food than sushi, which is why you need at least two trips to Zentan to truly get the full experience. One night, make a meal out of their spy themed sushi rolls and outside-the-box nigiri. Another night, experience the Best Side of the Menu: Cooked delicacies including robata skewers, pork belly, black cod, hamachi kama and so much more.

Zentan Miyazaki Hot Rock

Miyazaki Beef Hot Rock

One of Chef Nguyen’s smartest moves is taking advantage of the experiential dining craze. We no longer want to just eat our food. We want to learn about it, understand where it comes from, interact with it and even, cook it ourselves. If this appeals to you, order the Miyazaki Beef Hot Rock and cook beautifully marbled beef right on your tabletop. But don’t get lost in your glass of wine, these delicate slices only need three seconds per side.

Fall Preview: Uni Risotto

Fall Preview: Uni Risotto

Best Thing on the Menu had the opportunity to “spy” on some fall menu items that are set to debut soon, including uni (sea urchin) risotto that is punctuated with edamame and grilled mushrooms and sprinkled with parmesan cheese to give it salty stickiness. We are fully confident that this will be the must try DC dish for fall. Look for our @BTMenu tweets to find out when it debuts on the menu. Also coming soon, Chef Nguyen’s ramen. DC loves its ramen.

Click here for more photos. See a recent Q & A with Chef Nguyen in the Washington Business Journal. See our previous post about Zentan.

Share your favorite Zentan dishes in the comments section.

Bourbon Steak: Big Eye Tuna with Slow Cooked Pork

Bourbon Steak's Surf and Turf

Surf and turf has been a staple on steakhouse menus from London to Paris, Miami to LA ever since the 1960s when it first became a popular combo platter in the then fab “continental cuisine” style.

One of DC’s sexiest steakhouses, Bourbon Steak, has its own take on surf and turf that bends the traditional steak and shrimp or steak and lobster definition into something a lot more fun: seared ahi tuna and the ever-popular pork belly.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Big Eye Tuna with Slow Cooked Pork, Mango Ravioli, Young Coconut and Hijiki may come as a surprise to those expecting sirloin or one of Bourbon Steak’s specialties, beautifully marbled A5 Miyazaki Japanese Wagyu beef, to star as the BTM.

The top dish is a tropical storm to be reckoned with, laden with notes of coconut, lemongrass and mango. A foamy sea of white clouds cover the pork and tuna treasures hiding below. Surrounding the surf and turf proteins are perfect parcels of must-try mango ravioli.

Everything we tried was top notch. However, healthy eaters beware, you may intend to survive dinner at Bourbon Steak without destroying your diet, but out comes an amuse-bouche of three different kinds of fries with accompanying sinful sauces, followed by a skillet of adorable, swirly-knotted black truffle butter rolls. Sins were committed. Rules were broken.

Since we oddly opted for fish dishes (we also savored the rockfish) we’ll have to come back for some steaks, or at least the lobster pot pie.  As one final quick tip, Bourbon Steak is a great pre-theatre pick for those headed to the Kennedy Center to see Book of Mormon or other shows. If you’re going to have the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” song stuck in your head all night, you might as well have it with a belly full of free fries.

Big Eye Tuna with Slow Cooked Pork not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.