Toro Toro: Cachapas

Toro Toro Cachapas

If $79 doesn’t sound like a deal to you, give us a moment to change your mind. That’s how much the Rodizio Experience costs at Richard Sandoval’s latest iteration Toro Toro. By latest iteration, we mean they opened this week. We also dare to say it’s Sandoval’s best DC concept to date.

For that chunk of change you get unlimited small plates (there are 27 to choose from), unlimited sides (there are six), plus the entertainment of handsome young men visiting your table with skewers of seven different kinds of meat (and one hell of a grilled pineapple). Someone might want to get these strapping lads some cougar repellant though…

Toro Toro

The rodizio meats were all executed well, especially the chorizo, which tastes a bit like it made friends with a Kiełbasa. But, the Best Thing on the Menu is a small plate selection: Cachapas a.k.a. duck carnitas served under corn pancakes topped with oaxaca cheese and tomato jam. The good news is that you’ll be ordering this dish multiple times, so you’re likely to get the pronunciation down at some point. Wherever they eat this for breakfast, that’s where we want to move.

Another top pick from the small plates section is the seared seafood ceviche. Prawns, calamari, and scallops swim in a milky ginger, sweet potato broth that gets some help from habanero peppers.

If you want to experience Toro Toro with the vibe volume turned up to 10, check out the grand opening party featuring DJ Robbie Rivera from 10 PM to 3 AM on April 5th. Get your tickets here.

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

Lupo Verde: RA2 Pizza

Lupo Verde Pizza

Lupo Verde is the newest Italian stallion to set up shop on 14th Street, falling in line after Ghibellina, Etto, Mcafe Bar and Posto. Lupo Verde stands out because of its cheese shop operation, which we’ll try when spring gets its act together, making picnics possible. Oh, and the dashing Italian chef (Domenico Apollaro) and Italian owner (Antonio Matarazzo) are standouts too. They grew up in neighboring towns in Italy.

Antonio Matarazzo

Get ready for some intense menu handholding. You will get a walk through of every menu category in terms of portion size and the “prescribed” number of items you MUST order per category. Don’t you wish you had a little card that you could display on your table that said something like This Isn’t My First Rodeo? Kind of like the Green GO/Red STOP card at Brazilian steakhouses?

We’re glad we went rogue and ordered too many pizzas, because that’s how we discovered The Best Thing on the Menu: RA2 Pizza with Mozzarella, Stracchino, Mortadella, Pistachio, Radicchio and Honey. This pint-sized pie doesn’t rely on tomato sauce to sting you with flavor. Nuts and honey, plus some bitter greens do the trick.

Lupo Verde Pasticcio

Other top picks? The Seppia al Forno from the Antipasti section. It turns out squishy cuttlefish covered in shoestring fries is a winner.  So too is the Pasticcio. Though we wish they would call it what it is: Mac and cheese inside a pastry shell. Your inner child will thank you.

RA2 Pizza not your BTM? Share 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.

Doi Moi: Bun Bo Xao

Bun Bo Xao

Doi Moi is transformative in that it takes you to a different land. This land has exotic herbs, undiscovered textures and the commingling of sweet, spicy, salty and sour flavors. The Best Thing on the Menu: Bun Bo Xao Stir Fried Lemongrass Beef on Vermicelli Noodles, served with cucumbers, pickled carrot, daikon, fragrant herbs, fried garlic, nouc cham and scallion oil, features all of these far-off-land characteristics. We recommend ordering two of this dish if you are dining in a party of three or four. Bun Bo Xao carries the “phet” label, which means spicy, not to be confused with the word “phat” that still haunts us from the late 90s. So, if you like heat, look for the “phet” and “mak phet” menu icons.

There are two ways to do it up at Mark Kuller and Haidar Karoum’s Doi Moi. To determine which option best suits you, we invite you to take Best Thing on the Menu’s very first personality quiz.

DC Diner A: Are you a planner? Do you get patted on the back during performance reviews for being super organized? Do you schedule your haircuts for an entire year at once? Do you always get your oil changed on time?

or

DC Diner B:  Do you like surprises? Do you live on the edge? Do you consider waiting in line at Little Serow all a part of the experience? Do you set out for an unplanned evening of exploring neighborhood bars? Do you buy lunch every day because you can’t be bothered to plan ahead?

If you identify more with DC Diner A, we recommend using OpenTable to make a Doi Moi reservation. They take reservations at 5:30pm and 6:00pm, much like their sister restaurant Estadio has done for years. You’ll feel great committing, and a table will be waiting for you. Alternatively, if you identify more closely with Diner B, live dangerously and arrive at Doi Moi at a time of your choosing. Sure, it’ll be a zoo (for good reason, the food is fantastic) but you’ll have all the time in the world to sip tropical cocktails and admire the decor. Anticipation will continue to build as you wait and wait for a table.

In addition to the BTM, we recommend other standouts including the Charred Eggplant with Poached Shrimp (Yum Makuah), Crispy Pork and Shrimp Spring Rolls (Por Pia Tod) and absolutely, without question, the must-order fried bananas dessert (Gluoy Kak). Those who are hungry and aren’t on board with the small plates scene would be best served by ordering the LTOM (Largest Thing on the Menu): Lemongrass and Spice Roasted Half Chicken. Click here for more photos of Doi Moi dishes.

One last tip, Doi Moi finally added their menu to their website so you can take a gander before you dine. Plus check out their vegan and gluten free menu!

Bun Bo Xao not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

If you liked this, you may also like: Rice, Little Serow or Estadio.

Chez Billy: Saucisse Merguez

Chez Billy Saucisse Merguez

Stop what you’re doing and skip the 14th Street small plates scene and hop on Bus 52 or 54 instead. Get off in Petworth (home of our favorite prince) and visit Chez Billy for an impressive meal full of small miracles:

  • The portions were the right size.
  • The cocktails were inventive and worth their value.
  • The mackerel was fresh, not fishy.
  • The harissa wasn’t too spicy.
  • The beef bourguignon wasn’t too wintery.
  • The dessert wasn’t too sweet.
  • The service was so friendly we could have stayed all night.

We came away enjoying every last bite and will be back to try more dishes. Heck, we’ll even dry more dishes if they feed us in blueberry panna cotta.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Saucisse Merguez – Grilled Spicy Lamb sausages, White beans, Charred Scallions and Harissa was a standout. Why anyone makes sausage with meat other than lamb, we’ll never know after trying these rich, gamey links. The scallions were a special treat, reminding us of our very first post from Estadio and the warm heat of the harissa brought everything together.

Other notables included the boudin noir (warm blood sausage terrine), chilled corn soup with pickled cantaloupe, the confit de canard (confit duck) and the special of the day, short rib beef bourguignon. The Chef had just returned from honeymooning in France, and boy were we the beneficiaries. While this was a BTM contender, we try to stay away from recommending specials in case they do a disappearing act before you get to the restaurant.

Chez Billy Boudin Noir

Boudin Noir

Chez Billy Chilled Corn Soup

Chilled Corn Soup

The atmosphere is charming, which should come as no surprise since the building is included on the National Register of Historic Places. Its rich African American history, having originally housed Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks, saw the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Martin Luther King Jr.

So, in sum, step away from the small plates and step into Chez Billy for some modern French fare that is sure to impress (and at prices, that again, are a small miracle).

Saucisse Merguez not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section. 

If you liked this, you may also like Le Diplomate, Le Pain Quotidien or Poste.

Out of Town Edition – State Bird Provisions (San Fran)

State Bird Provisions' Pickled Anchovy-Sesame Pancake
Guest Post: Eric & Ashely

With the well-known dearth of quality food in DC (PSYCH!), longtime FoBTM (friends of BTM) escaped to the food mecca of San Francisco to see firsthand what this first class food city is all about. In between copious helpings of sourdough and avocados, we had a chance to dine at some of SF’s most delicious eateries, including a stop at State Bird Provisions – the 2012 James Beard award winner for Best New Restaurant.

The unique menu and dining style at SBP is split into “commandables” and “provisions.” The standing menu of commandables has long-time favorites like their namesake, the CA State Bird, an amazingly crispy, juicy and tender quail with lemony onions, and a helping of savory pancakes. Meanwhile, dim sum carts meander through the crowded restaurant, offering diners a peek at the daily specials or “provisions.”

You may be thinking, “oh no, not another gimmicky small plates agenda,” which we FoBTM are totally out on. Instead, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly servers describe each dish in detail, allowing diners to conjure what their meal might look like (and taste like) before making difficult choices. With plates coming out of the kitchen every few minutes, you can pace your meal however you’d like, not end up with too much food and save lunch money for the rest of your trip. The best of both worlds.

Lucky for you, the Best Thing on the Menu: Pickled Anchovy-Sesame Pancake with Crème Fraîche and Basil is on the reliable list of commandables, upping the likelihood that you can try the dish on your next trip to San Fran. Gently pickled anchovies and just-picked radish sit atop a thick, brioche-y sesame pancake. A touch of sour cream and you’re eating the best version of latkes and herring you’ve ever tasted. Even one anchovy-hating FoBTM needed a second bite. With most dishes priced around $10, you can eat stacks on stacks of pancakes, instead of spending stacks on stacks on stacks.

Not a fan of anchovies? Try the Charred Octopus in Tomato-Chickpea Salsa or Garlic Bread with Buratta. Or, you could follow the advice of this four-year old.

It won’t be long before other restaurants mimic SBP’s distinctive dining style, and as long as they can come close to matching the quality of the food at State Bird Provisions, we are looking forward to what the future brings.

Pickled Anchovy-Sesame Pancake not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.