Tuesday, March 16, 2010


6931 Arlington Road
Bethesda, MD 20814


Those of you familiar with the blog know how we feel about Ramen. Simply, one of life’s great pleasures. Yet, surprisingly hard to do well and all too hard to find in our neck of the woods. Trips to NY and the occasional and all too infrequent trips to Japan aside, we have long needed, wanted, begged for and craved Ramen in America’s capitol. I’ve even talked with friends about quitting our jobs, moving to Japan for 6 months to learn the trade and coming back to DC as the Ramen king. Now, after 10 years of disappointment, I am thrilled to announce that DC has entered the Ramen Zone with the arrival of Ren’s Ramen.
OK, OK, technically, it is in Maryland (Bethesda) but it is just outside the city line and within 15 minute drive from my house - so it counts. And, more importantly, it is goooooood. Not the best Ramen you will ever have, and not better (or even as good) as the best placed in NYC (including Sapporo and Ippudo). But way better than anything that can be had within 150 miles and given how long we have waited, a real relief and pleasure.
The location leaves a bit to be desired – in a business/strip mall. The ambiance is underwhelming, with more linoleum than wood, and conference tables as opposed to a bar. The florescent lighting also lays everything bare. But, let’s face it, those in search of good noodles are willing to deal with a lot for the real thing. Screw how it looks, how does it taste?!
And Ren’s is the real thing. The menu is very short but offers four styles of ramen, all Sapporo style. These include Miso, Tonshio (pork bone), Vegetable shio (salt flavored), and Shoyu (soy flavored) soup. In addition, there are extra toppings, including extra pork, bamboo shoots, flavored boiled egg, corn, seaweed, and even butter.
I ordered the Shoyu on my first visit – although I was later told by a Japanese friend than Miso is the main Sapporo style to eat. I also ordered with the extra pork (if you are a long time reader, you understand) and the egg.
The broth is excellent. Yes, a tad salty, but has a nice deep flavor, a slight sheen from fat on top and a deep brown color. This took some effort. More importantly, the noodles are excellent – yellow, kinky and with a bit of bite. Really delicious stuff. The roast pork is also excellent – nice a fatty.
The cost is a little annoying– each of the extras is . . . well . . . extra. So a bowl of soup with some extra toppings can quickly come to $15-16 bucks. But it is a lot cheaper than a bus trip to New York or a one way ANA flight to Narita.
All in all, I sleep much better knowing DC has now come to terms with its Asian eating compulsives and opened Ren’s. I’ll be back again and again, and in fact, may be there this weekend.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chasing THE Korean Fried Chicken Recipe

This article has a lot of people running for the nearest Bon Chon Chicken and surfing the web for any reasonably accurate KFC recipe. Being home bound these days sent me to the cabinet, looking for the right ingredients and checking out a few choice recipes to see what i could do to satisfy my fry-tooth. Any reader knows I will go a long way for some good KFC

I was hoping to try 4 variations to see which made the most accurate KFC version. Time was against me, so tonight I tried two of the four. All of the methods will involve the double fry method, which appears essential.

I took 3 pounds of chicken wings and marinated overnight in garlic, salt, some oil, some water and some rice wine vinegar.

The first of the two batches was dredged in straight corn starch and the second batch was dredged in a mixture of both corn starch and white rice flour.

Each batch of wings was deep fried (not pan fried like southern fried chicken) for ten minutes, taken out for ten to rest, and then re-fried for another ten minutes. The oil (corn) was kept as close to 350 the entire time as possible.

Once done, the chicken rested for 5 minutes and was then mixed in a reduced syrup of soy sauce, vinegar, honey and garlic.

The results for this initial try were:

1) pure corn starch is better than a mixture of corn starch and rice flour. The rice flour clearly browns at a higher temperature, and so the resulting chicken was not as dark or crispy as with the straight corn starch.

2) the sauce really matters. While my initial mixture was good, it was not sweet enough and had too strong a soy flavor. A light soy would be better, and some mirin would have been useful as it combined both a light soy and a sweetness. Some brown sugar might also have helped, or some rock candy melted. I have to work on this a bit.

3) Temperature matters. The chicken is crispy - even once it is covered in the sauce - which was a key feature, but the meat is pretty dry. I'd rather do the first fry at 350 for 10 and then a second fry at 375 for 5 minutes to try and keep some of the moisture in. juicy chicken is always better.

So, of the two - corn starch chicken wins, but the sauce and temperature need adjusting.

Next up in our exploration, KFC made with a wet batter.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Shame on you Nobu!

Shame on you Nobu!

Nobu Moscow
20 Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, Building 1
+7 495 645 3191
2 out of 5 Grains of Rice
(Prices in Roubles with exchange rate of 30 R to $1)

Senior Roving Correspondent Lily C.

In researching the top culinary sights for my upcoming trip to Moscow, I came across an article announcing that Nobu opened a branch in Moscow this past April. Apparently, Russians are wild for sushi so much so that Nobu (with Robert De Niro as one of his investors) decided that Moscow was worthy of one his eponymously named restaurants. I, being a Nobu virgin, decided this was a perfect opportunity to pop my cherry. My dining companion and I arrived at the well appointed entry for Nobu in a fancy part of downtown Moscow near the Kremlin and were promptly whisked to the fourth floor restaurant. The decor was upscale japanese hip meaning dark wood interior with interesting wooden bird nests lighting fixtures. The service was attentive and well paced (and if only the waiter had fresher breath it would have rated 5 stars).

The food however was another story entirely. I admit I had very high expectations for Nobu. I have read so many glowing reviews of Nobu in NYC and Matsuhisa in LA over the years that I expected the food to be amazing. Instead what we got was ehhh. To be fair, we did book dinner on a Sunday because it was the only day that worked with our schedule (a no-no for the sushi aficionado since the last fish delivery is usually on Fridays) but that still is no excuse. Overall, I would rate it on par with any decent sushi restaurant in LA but at wildly outrageous prices (even considering the exchange rate and generally expensiveness of Moscow).

It started out so well with a first course of thin slices of whitefish with long slivers of fresh chive and ginger in a ponzu sauce (1000 R). The fish was fresh and the sauce delicious. We also thought the presentation with a parboiled skinned tomato flower was very pretty. So far a strong start.

The next course was the famous black cod with miso (1950 R). For $65, I expected to be brought to tears by perfection. What we got instead was a decent piece of miso cod, but again nothing to write home about. It was a bit on the sweet side for my taste and a tad overcooked. The cod could have been silkier.

Next up was hamachi kama, one of my favorite japanese dishes (560 R). Here, Nobu did not disappoint. The collar was a nice size and grilled well. But, it is hard to ruin hamachi kama as long as you start with good fish.

We then had a tempura sampler course consisting of various vegetables (onions, mushroom, tomato, sweet potato) and shrimp (950 R). The sign of great tempura is lightness. This was not it. We thought it was a greasy and heavy (and crazy expensive at just over $30).


Finally, our last course was the sashimi dinner (3000 R). If anything, I thought this would be where Nobu would shine since the very essence of a sushi restaurant should be fresh fish. Oh how wrong I was. This was by far the worst course of the night. We were presented with red tuna, yellowtail, crab, salmon, white fish, shrimp and octopus. The salmon was by far the freshest and tastiest fish on the plate. But, that is no surprise since Russians know their way around salmon and will not put up with inferior cuts. The octopus, not usually a favorite, was also good here too. It was tender and flavorful. The white fish and crab were decent. The rest was downhill in a major way. The yellowtail was chewy. The shrimp had this weird aftertaste that was decidedly gross. Finally, the tuna was fishy, at least 2 days old and should not have been served. In fact, my dining companion felt the ill effects of this tuna shortly thereafter. Luckily, I have an iron stomach. Still, not a very satisfactory ending to my first Nobu experience.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


in an effort to be fair to our regular readers, i wanted to let everyone know that AllTasteSame will be on hiatus for a while. I've taken a new job and have a new baby boy. Both will keep me away from the blog until further notice. i hope you will use the blog as a resource and check back for future posts.

all the best to you, and thanks for reading.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Long Way For Soup

65 4th Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 388-0088
3 Grains of Rice

Ok, you’ve read the blog and know I am cuckoo for Ramen noodles. I flew to Japan for a ramen fest a few months back and recently had to go to NYC for business. I went up the day before so I could grab a bowl before my lunch meeting. After a little bit of web searching, I settled on the newly opened branch of the Japanese chain Ippudo.

I arrived exactly at 11am – opening time and was not even the first person in the joint. All Japanese. So far, so good. Reassuring, but immediately I knew this was not a basic Japanese ramen joint. In Japan, Ramen is basic food – salary man stuff. In NY, ramen becomes a Zen experience. Normally I like Zen experiences, but this was a little off putting. Very nice raw wood décor, glass kitchen area, etc. But in the end, Ramen is about the soup, not the décor – which is why most Japanese ramen places look like holes in the wall. The holier, the better.

I decided to start with the Hirata buns on my brother in law’s recommendation and I have to say – for a ramen place – this place has awesome buns. These were fluffy while Japanese bao folded over onto a slice of Berkshire pork, pickled cabbage and a tangy, spicy, snappy BBQ sauce. They were as light as pillows, but made my mouth water and my lips tingle. A nice little touch of heat added to the pleasure of these little heavenly morsels of porky goodness.

Onto the soup. I order the house special – ShiroMaru Hakata Classic Ramen. It was basically a miso broth with a nice few slices of Berkshire pork, bamboo shoot slices, half a hard boiled egg, some sesame seeds and strips of nori sheets. Now, the broth makes ramen and this broth was terrific. Very rich, not overly salty and full of flavor. Not from a little packet to be sure. But the noodles were wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I have noodles like these in my cabinet back home.

They are thin, machine made, white flour noodles. They had a little bite to them but they are not the noodles I like or that I get in Japan. They are boiled, not fried and therefore add no grease or fat to the broth. They should look like this.

So, it was not a resounding success. Now don’t get me wrong. I will probably go back just for the buns – they were that good. But having had Ramen a few times in NY, I would rather hit Rai Rai Ken or Sapporo in midtown for the soup before heading back to Ippudo. It wasn’t bad – and the buns put it over the top but a ramen place should have ramen nailed and this was not to my personal preferences.

Monday, November 10, 2008

No More Calls, We Have a Winner

Hand-down, without hesitation, the best Korean Restaurant in Little Seoul (Annondale) is Oegadgib. We originally reviewed this off the road, hard to find gem in August and a return visit last night confirmed that this not only the best value for the money, it is the best overall Korean restaraunt in the DC area (ok, have we been to all of them - no, but most). I am sure you can find a place that makes one dish that is a little better than Oegadgib (for example, no Korean Fried Chicken), but for the price, the quality, the variety, how well the food is done and the experience, Oegadgib wins hands down.

Last night included some Kalbi(short rib ) and some Sangyapsol (three layer pork belly) all grilled on a stone slab with garlic,peppers and as we were shown thin slices of daikon that become fabulous when grilled with pork belly, bi bim bap, Tofu Jigae (spicy tofu and seafood soup) and a dok mondu casserole (dok are sliced rice cakes and mandoo are dumplings) simmers in a mild broth.

Starter plates were all good, barley tea tasty and as usual, people were nice and happy to have us there. We did not hit the all you can eat or shabu shabu, but we felt better knowing it was there and to be targettedon a future visit. yet to have anything there that wasn't really excellent, and highly recommend it. From no one, when people ask me where to go for Korean, I am sending them to Oegadgib. You should too.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sometimes Simple is Best

Cleanig out the fridge before this weekend's farmaner market trip found a head of Tatsoi from last Sunday. It was late, and I didn't have a lot of time so went simple which in this case also means delicious.

Cut and cleaned, and added to a wok with 1 TBSP of vegetable oil and 5 sliced cloves of garlic. As it wilted, added 1 TBSP of soy sauce, 1 TBSP of brown rice vinegar and 1 Tsp of kosher salt. Served with lightly sauteed firm tofu and white rice.

Simple, healthy, quick and tasty. What else can you ask for?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fresh, Local, Healthy and, most importantly, GOOOOD

Low-calorie Chinese Style Eggplant

So I’ve started a calorie counting process with a nutritionist. Seems years of loving food has led me to a point where I either have to lose weight or consider amputation. But I am unwilling to stop eating good food. And with my other newfound locavore/organic obsession, I’ve been trying old recipes with lower fat approaches.

As usual, I let the farmer’s market dictate the main ingredient. Today was the last day for eggplant at the Dupont Market. I have not had them in a while and they looked so good, I had to buy a whole bag full.

So I launched into a low fat version of Szechuan-Style Spicy Eggplant. The key here is to use as little oil (down from 5 Tbsp to only 2) as possible, and substitute chicken stock for the moisture required to stew the eggplant until they are nice and soft.

This dish came out really well, if I do say so myself. Tart, spicy with a hint of sweetness and a very thick, viscous sauce. Filling too, which is a good think on my limited calorie count.

2 cups sliced Asian eggplants, cut on the bias (1 ½” – 2”)
3 mild green chilis
5 cloves Garlic, minced
3 scallions diced
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp Szechuan chili oil
3 Tbsp sugar
¼ cup vinegar (white or brown rice)
½ cup chicken stock, plus more as needed
1 Tbsp corn starch

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a wok and stir fry eggplant for 2 minutes
Add 2 tbsp chicken stock, stir for 2 minutes and then set eggplant aside

Add 1Tbsp chili oil to wok and add garlic, scallion, peppers and saute until just brown
Return eggplant to wok and add all other ingredients, bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer and cover for 7-10 minutes or until eggplant is just soft. Add more chicken stock as needed to keep moist and soften eggplant.

Serve over white rice (in my case, just ½ cup).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

the fresher the better

Last Sunday's farmer's market had a wonderful assortment of peppers, so I decided to make a basic beef with fresh chili peppers. Using some mild green chilis and a free range, grass fed sirloin steak, along with a massive amount of garlic, ginger and some szechuan chili oil I made this spring, I made a basic stir fry and it was terrific. I have not done a side by side, but I feel better knowing I am eating the very freshest of foods with no additives, chemicals, anti-biotics, etc. And since taste, like beauty, is a personal thing if I think it tastes better, then I guess it does.

Beef with Fresh Green Chili

1 10oz Sirloin - sliced into strips
4 green chilis, sliced into rings, seeds and all (more if you like)
4 cloves garlic (more if you like)
3 coins ginger, minced
1 TBSP chili oil
1 TSPN veg oil
1 TBSP soy sauce
1/2 TSPN corn starch diluted in water

Stir fry beef in oil until just rare, drain and set beef aside

stir fry garlic, ginger and peppers until just soft
add beef back in, and cook until just cooked
add in soy and corn starch, and stir

serve with white rice.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A (good) Chicken in Every Pot

The Minimalist entry from the NYTimes got me thinking about this dish, and since my wife and I have been in Europe all week, I knew we could both use a bit of home-made Asian for dinner.

The dish starts out with one of the most under-appreciated chicken preparations of all time - poached (which I originally learned about from my mother in law Lucia). It is too easy not to do more often. Throw a chicken (organic free-range, please) in a pot, cover with water, a bit of soy, some ginger, garlic and spices (whatever you want, really from cloves to peppercorns, some chinese cooking wine, whatever) and bring to a boil, the simmer for 45 minutes (turn a few times to make sure the whole chicken is cooked). Then pull the chicken and let it cool.

The side benefit is the chicken broth that results. Some save it for next time the make poached chicken, using it to make an increasingly concentrated poaching liquid. I like to use mine for soup - it makes an amazing Ramen broth.

The chicken was used tonight to make Hainan chicken, which is really just shredded chicken over rice with a dipping sauce. The poached chicken is allowed to cool and then shredded by hand to be served over a bed of rice.

I liked the idea of making the rice with the poaching-produced chicken broth. Kind of like a Chinese chicken Risotto. But it was much easier. Just sautee some garlic and ginger (I used some chicken fat skimmed from the broth) and then add 1 1/2 cups of rice and 2 cups of broth. Bring to a boil and them simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

The key to this dish is the flavored oil dipping sauce. I used 3/4 cup of veggie oil and about 1 tbsp of sesame oil which I heated until smoking. When done, I poured over chopped garlic, ginger, one chopped serrano pepper and scallions.

It must be hot enough to really sizzle. When done, I added some salt (1 teaspoon) and poured over the shredded chicken which was layered over the rice. I topped with the seasoned oil and diced cucumber.

I have to admit, in all humility - - this was goooooooood home cooking.

Oh yeah, and form a 10 dollar chicken, I have leftover chicken for chicken salad, some robust chicken broth and a second days worth of some kick ass hainan chicken. Not too shabby in these trying economic times.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Off topic, but important

I had a revelation this week. You know how we joke that everything sort of tastes like chicken? Well, I now know why. It is because what we have been eating does not taste like chicken at all. What we have been eating tastes like nothing at all. You know what does taste like chicken? CHICKEN. Real chicken. Chickens that have been fed what chicken eat (grain, grubs, bugs), who get to walk around, who are not “cooped” up all the time (think about the expression, who do not have their beaks removed, who see sunlight, etc.) You know – animals, birds, living things.

This weekend – spurred by my recent readings of Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (both excellent books that have their pros and cons. They should not be taken at face value, but like all good books force you to think and ask yourself questions. They also made me hungry) – I purchased a fresh, totally organic free range, never frozen, locally raised chicken at our local farmers market. It had been “harvested” on Thursday and on Tuesday was on the grill. I butterflied it and spiced the skin heavily with salt, pepper, some other spices and used bricks to press it down on the grill. Inspired by Georgian chicken I have had in Moscow.

Not only did it look fabulous, and smell terrific, but it tasted like – well it tasted what I can only assume chicken tastes like. The texture was smoother and richer, the taste was fuller and more complex. It did not taste like nothing, or like the sauce it was served with – it tasted like - heaven help me – MEAT - with flavor, texture, complexity and nuance.

At first, the taste bugged me. It did not taste like chicken. It tasted weird. And then I realized, everything else I had been eating for 41 years did not taste like chicken and this was the real thing. I feel liberated, but angry (and hungry, but what else is new). I’ve been duped all my life by people I have never met who have robbed me of flavor and taste experiences all for a cheaper product. I robbed myself by buying an inferior product, and not knowing enough to ask what I was eating.

Well, enough is enough. I am onto something good and hope I never go back. What’s for dinner? Chicken . . . mmmmmmmm, chicken.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Muffin Top, Viet Style

Huong Viet Restaurant
Eden Center (Seven Corners)
6785 Wilson Blvd
Falls Church, VA 22044
(703) 538-7110

2.5 out of 5 grains of rice

by Senior Roving Correspondent Lily C.

We went to Eden Center on a quest for some tasty vietnamese on a rainy night in DC. I consulted yelp for some suggestions and settled on Huong Viet. We settled on a variety bun -- grilled pork (succulent, tasty) and shrimp wrapped in sugar cane (bland) with some snow pea shoots stir-fried in garlic (tasty). We went a little crazy with the apps. One of the many entries intrigued my dining companion -- vietnamese muffins. What could that be pray tell? The waiter said it had mung beans and shrimp so we said we give it a try. This is what came – a deep fried muffin with a shrimp on top. When we bit into it, it had the consistency of a slightly soft hockey puck and was so dense that we could barely lift it. Needless to say it was not a winner. We tried to leave it on the table but the waiter efficiently pack it in a to go container for us. I’m sure he could not imagine that we would leave such glorious food on the table. When we tried to sneak out of the restaurant and “forget” to bring it with us, the waiter chased us down in the parking lot. Foiled again!

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I had Ramen for breakfast at Narita airport before my flight left. Is that wrong?

I am set for about a week, I think, on the ramen.

Friday, August 29, 2008


How much is too much? well, 2 times in 4 hours may be getting close. Snooping around Saitama City Japan today, I stumbled onto Rai Rai Ken near the Urawa train station. Good soy flavored ramen - 460 yen, nice tender pork and a light topping of nori and green onions. Looked just like this Went down very nicely. And then I went shopping, bought a few gifts, and as I was heading home to the hotel stumbled upon a no-name ramen place under the train tracks. Looked good, and stopped in for some Miso Ramen. They were even better - good rich broth, not too salty, lots of sprouts and salted pork. Managed to finished the noodles, but was too stuffed to finish the broth. Went home and napped for a bit to let me poor heart rest.

Oh, and then had a small bowl of ramen at the hotel banquet. I may be noodled out for a few days, but you never know. My plane doesn't leave for 12 more hours.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ode to a (Japanese) creampuff

Beard Papa
Various Locations Visited in CA and NYC

5 out of 5 grains of rice

by Senior Roving Correspondent Lily C.

Asian cuisine is not known for its desserts. Perhaps it is the fact that many of our people are lactose intolerant and thus cream is not widely embraced. Thank god one man in Osaka, Japan decided to create the world's best cream puff . . . and succeeded. I discovered the joy of the Beard Papa cream puff at a Fourth of July BBQ this year in NYC and was so happy to come across some additional locations in LA this week. In comparison to their European counterparts, Beard Papa's cream puffs are more light and airy. First the pastry shell is not as sweet. The pastry shell is baked fresh each day, but is not filled with cream until you order so the cream puff stays crispy on the outside. There is a special machine that looks like a coffee urn with a spigot that dispenses the creamy goodness. The cream filling is also more pudding like than whipped cream like and thus lighter (enabling one to eat more than one should). There are several different flavors of cream (vanilla, strawberry, coffee, green tea, etc.). I have tried the vanilla and strawberry. While both are stupendous, for me the strawberry edges out the vanilla due to the bits of real strawberries in the filling. There are no preservatives in these cream puffs so they taste super fresh (and also must be eaten almost immediately). Ahhhh perfection that can held in the palm of your hand.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dip me in batter and call me Tempura

Royal Pines Hotel
Saintama City, Japan
August 26, 2008
4 grains of rice

Japan is a country that specializes in . . . well . . specializing. Walking down any street in a Japanese city will bring you past a variety of specialized, single food restaurants. Sushi, Yakatori, Soba, Udon, Ramen, etc. Each kind of restaurant is denoted by a special marker outside – a red lantern, a blue curtain, a sake keg. So when you have a particular craving in Japan, all you need to do is find the right signal and you are good to go.

Tonight, for me, the craving was tempura. I am in Japan for work and once I found the name of the hotel I was staying in, I immediately looked it up on the all-knowing Interwebs and saw that the had a tempura restaurant. I’ve heard about them a lot, and even seen them on TV, but had never been to one so I already had my first meal planned out (yes, I am such a food geek that I plan my work trips by the food I might eat there).

So tonight’s dinner took place at Arakawa on the 5th floor of the Royal Pines Hotel in Saintama City, Japan.

Now for most people in the United States (where I am from) Tempura means a deep fried piece of shrimp, usually heavily breaded and served along side the main dish (a bento box, some sushi perhaps). But Tempura done right allows the method of cooking to showcase the different tastes, textures, colors and shapes that nature has to offer, depending on the season. Well, my meal tonight was the bets, most extensive demonstration of the tempura art I have ever tasted.

The setting was a simple bar with about 10 seats facing a tempura chef. He worked in a small area with a copper wok with hot oil (I assumed peanut), a tray of rice flour and a bowl of batter made from rice flour and water. This was his canvas. His palette was a huge tray of vegetables and a small fridge of seafood from which he painted a glorious portrait of tastes and textures. The dinner was a fixed course affair with too many dishes to recall, but it included about a dozen small, bite sized morsels including okra, sweet potato, a slice of onion, shrimp, sea eel, anchovies, squid, pumpkin, asparagus, and a few items hard to pin down (one appeared to be fish bones, another a small crab I had never seen before). Perhaps the most exquisite was the scallop wrapped in a shiso leaf. The chef also prepared a final seafood and veggie fritter that was dipped in soy and served over a bed of rice and garnished with lime rind.

All was done with an efficiency of motion and concentration that is hard to describe. Line a seamstress, or a machinist going through motions performed a thousand times before, the chef (yamatama-san) prepared tidbits for the 10 peoples seated before him calmly, quickly, all belying the monstrously hot cauldron of oil perkind before him. His only tools – a sharp knife and a long paid of steel tipped chopsticks.

The best dish was from the chef menu, which I was asked to pick from a variety. I picked well, considering the menu was in Japanese – a language I don’t read. I simply asked for the chef’s pick. He disappeared and returned with a large clam (about the size of a lemon, shucked, dusted and fried it all in about 30 seconds and served it to me in its own shell. It tasted like the sea itself, with a creamy, light texture that I have never had before. Just astounding.

All were served with a light dipping tempura sauce and alongside a tray with seven flavored salts (wasabi, ginger, red pepper, Japanese herb, paprkika, squid ink and kelp). Hard for me to tell the difference, but all were good.

While I don’t expect people to make the trip to this particular place, I do recommend finding real tempura and enjoying how it can accentuate the delicacy and different characteristics of food. More importantly, I hope you’ll get to see a master in action, preparing fried foods that are neither heavy of greasy, only heavenly and done with a quiet pride that I hope to enjoy again . . . . soon!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Worst Dim Sum In the History of the World!

Mandarin Oriental
1330 Maryland Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20024 (202) 554-8588

0 out of 5 grains

By Senior Roving Correspondent Lily C.

I preface this review by saying that my mother would disown me if she knew that I purposely went to dim sum that was $12 a basket. Despite these crazy prices I forged ahead because I had high expectations for the Mandarin Oriental (based on very satisfying experiences in Asia). Plus, they promised a special chef that I could only assume was Thai Chinese:

"We are pleased to welcome Master Dim Sum Chef Naris Pukpongsuk from Fujian Restaurant at Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai. Chef Naris will jet in from Thailand to prepare a one-of-a-kind Dim Sum Lunch from June 30 to July 5. Pricing for this special menu starts at USD 12. "

Well my suspicions were right on the money. I have never had a more heinous, overcooked, and outrageously overpriced dim sum in my life. $44 for 8 small dumplings. That is over $5 a dumpling! For that price, I expect some type of orgasmic experience to occur. Instead I had to fight the urge to walk out the hotel without paying. The dumpling skins were thick and mushy and the filling (various types of shrimp and pork) were tough. Clearly, these dumplings were cooked at least 10 mins too long. The potential delicate flavors of dim sum were lost in this mush. Overall, this was the worst dim sum I have ever had in my life (and that includes frozen dim sum from safeway and some unfortunate experiences in dc chinatown).

We tried to save lunch by ordering the sliders (plus we were still starving), which was another grave mistake. Again these mini-burgers (beef and lamb) were hideously overpriced at over $5 per slider and overcooked. The little cubes of lamb were tough, devoid of any flavor and sitting on some bland eggplant puree. The beef burgers were a bit better. At least they were medium rare. That's the best thing I could say about them. Slightly better than white castle. Nowhere near as good as matchbox and 6 times as much.

I will NEVER EVER EVER go to the Mandarin Oriental DC again and have become highly skeptical of any other US location.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Long Overdue Korean

OK Ok, it's been too long. This summer has been an active one, but don't think we haven't been eating and drinking Asian. We have.

One terrific find this summer as been a hidden Korean place in (you guessed it) Annandale, VA- otherwise known as Little Seoul. It had been revised in the WP, but not by us and so T and C (our original Korean guides) and I trekked off to Oegadgib. A little hard to find, tucked off the south side of Little River Turnpike (so named since it brings a never ending river of good Korean food), this place is hidden in a nondescript red brick building behind a half Latino/half Korean butcher.

7331 Little River Turkpike

This place is for real and it is good. Very simple inside, nothing fancy, bare wood tables and booths. All Korean waitstaff - all family connected but nice and, when they found out that one of our blond cohorts spoke Korean, very interested in our story.

By far the most compelling advertisement is the all you can eat meat special for $15.99. As with other Korean joints, the meat is good and simply prepared on a table-resting gas grill. Unlike other places, this grill uses an authentic stone slab for the grilling. the meat was good, not super high quality (hey, it's all you can eat) but good, tasty and plentiful. We also had one order of the three layer pork (sam gyup sal) which was very very good (ok, it's my fav so I am biased).

A nice surprise were the other dishes we ordered. One Soup was Kaerin Chim, which is a frothy egg white soup. Very light and tasty, it was unlike anything I'd ever tried before. Like white clouds, but with a very fresh egg flavor. Just fantastic. The Duinchang Chiggae (Fermented Bean Soup) was also fantastic. Much more flavorful then your standard Miso soup, this was rich and hearty and loads of flavor. Both served in the traditional Korean stone pot.

We also had a seafood tofu soup (Haemul sundubo) which was very tasty - with lots of seafood flavor. Not as compelling as the other two soups, but tasty.

we have also found that you can rate a Korean place by the quality of its Pa-Jeaon - or seafood pancake. This place rated very right. The seafood was light and delicate (unlike some places where it is overcooked and becomes touch) and the pancake was light and fluffy. Really nice.

Overall, this place was terrific. price was good, service very nice (which is not always the case), food terrific and with unusual twists.

All in all, highly recommended.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hipster Sushi in the Atlas District (aka way far Capital Hill)

Sticky Rice
1224 H St NE (between N 12th St & N 13th St)
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 397-7655
Mon-Thu, Sun 5:00 p.m.-2:00 a.m.
Fri-Sat 5:00 p.m.-3:00 a.m.
Reservations Accepted

2 out of 5 grains of rice

By Senior Roving Reporter Lily C. and Freelance Food Evaluation Expert Will G.

We arrived at Sticky Rice at 7:45pm on a Thursday night and found ourselves faced with an hour wait! On H Street NE! What is this world coming to? The silver lining in this story is our discovery that the Red and the Black (bar next door) has $2.25 drinks during happy hour M-F from 5-8pm. $2.25 for an Absolut and soda? Now that is a deal!! And Sticky Rice will call you on your cell when your table is ready, so you can get sloshed before dinner.

When we finally got our table an hour later, the stereo greeted us with some classic Journey and Lionel Richie as we sat down. For most of the dining patrons, this music was retro and ironic. Sadly for us, we were reminded of high school prom. Our waitress was young and perky but not the most attentive throughout the meal.

We decided to sample a wide variety of the menu (given our drunken state).
• Apps: Tater Tots and Ribs
• Old School Sushi: Hamachi, Saba, and Unagi Nigri
• New Fangled Sushi: Chili Roll (tuna, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeno & grilled pineapple w/ tempura crunchies and tobiko) and New Style Sashimi (tuna and tilapia topped with ginger garlic and ponzu then flash seared with hot sesame oil finished with scallions and sesame seeds.)

In an effort to be positive, let’s start with the good news. The tater tots ROCKED our world. They were crispy, hot and came with a special dipping sauce (spicy mayo). The tots are available as a regular side order ($2), or by the bucket ($6). Impressively, we showed restraint and decided to bypass the bucket. We could have just eaten this and been very happy.

We also received a free order of the sticky balls, a promotional touch for the restaurant’s opening week. While some may find the name off-putting (but clearly not us), these deep fried rice balls were super tasty. According to menu, these morsels of yummy goodness are composed of tuna, crab, siracha, rice in an inari pocket deep fried w/ scallions, wasabi dressing and eel sauce. We did not detect any seafood like substance in our balls, but who cares when you have deep fried rice with sauce? The ribs were also decent. Meaty and not too fatty with a light sauce.

Now for the bad news. The service was monumentally slow. And the sushi took forever to come. Way longer than the cooked food. What up with that? The nigri sushi was edible, decent even. I rank it a step above supermarket sushi. But the new fangled sushi was crazy and wrong. The chili roll sounded so good on paper but it was strangely tasteless. Both the tuna and pineapple were flavorless. The dominating flavor and texture was from the too large pieces of crunchy cucumber. When a “chili roll” tastes like cucumber, something is seriously off. And the “new style” sashimi was an affront to fish-eaters everywhere. Clearly the flash frying technique needs some work, because our thin pieces of fish were almost cooked through. And they didn’t taste that fresh, quite frankly. We stopped eating after a few bits.

Given that Sticky Rice has just debuted, we are willing to give the food another try once they’ve had some time to get up to speed. However, it is already on our list as the go-to place when late night tots are needed to soak up the copious amounts of alcohol consumed at the various hipster bars just down the block.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

at long last, peace

I've been on a mission. I have failed to complete it for many months, but now, finally, I can rest peacefully. We had raamen for lunch in Tokyo today.

Was it all I could have hoped for? Yes. Was it more? Yes.
We had asked a lot of people for help. Most pointed us to big fancy office buildings, but I knew they would not do. Raamen is street food. We needed something under 7 bucks to be any good. We needed something where people just walked in off the street to be good. So Sara knew what we needed and found

Akasaka Raamen Honten. Akasaka is a lively area not far from the US Embassy. The place was exactly right. It was diminished somewhat by the fact that the owner spoke enough english to help us, but in th eend it did make it easier. You pay for your meal up front at a machine that discharges a ticket which you then hand over when ordering.

I had the Shoyu Ramen, and my colleague the straight Miso. I am used to US based raamen which is clearly far too healthy. My bown features a fine layer of fat at the top which made everything taste better and go down easier. The slice of pork we had was like butter, silky and falling apart. With an extra helping of green onions, it lasted maybe 2 minutes. The noodles had a good amount of bite to them. A few added delights (half a hard boiled egg, a little nori). wow. so good. so very good.

And, now, I have a raamen place in Tokyo. I sleep better at night knowing they are there, but I know that there are hundreds, maybe thousands of them here and I've only found one. So much more work to do.

Well, there is always dinner?!