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February 12, 2006

Vegetate: Cozy Consumables

Abstract: Anytime a new vegetarian restaurant opens in DC, it piques my interest. I've been wanting to go to Vegetate since it opened, and finally decided to make it a Restaurant Week outing along with Ryan and Huyen.

Players:Huyen, Ryan and Viren.

Prologue: To Cliché Or Not To ...

I hate to start a narrative with a cliché, but ...bah, who am I kiddding? My stated antipathy towards clichés is nothing but a facade to hide myself from the inevitable harsh critiques. "Viren started off with a cliché!" would go the cry. "He used the oft-worn phrase a mite too much" will be whispered in the dark, dank recesses of many an IM chat. All the while, I will be cowering and berating myself for being such a fool and destroying my reputation. Of course, then I come to my senses and realize that neither my reputation nor my readers' critiques are as towering as envisioned. So, back to the cliché that needs must start my akward prose:

Act I: Weather and Grammar: Intersections

It was a dark and stormy night. This was brought to my notice when I opened the door to let Ryan and Huyen in. Apparently between the time I went to the gym in the morning and the time to leave for The City (yes, it's in caps...us poor suburbanites must speak of DC with the proper reverence). The wind was blowing something fierce creating miniature whirlwinds of snowflakes which were melting 1.12 inches above ground (shades of thiotimoline!). My immediate thought was that this was perfect weather for a nice mug of hot chocolate -- unfortunately, that wasn't quite in the books. So, girding our loins, metaphorically speaking, we set off for Vegetate. This particular destination was an easy one since Ryan and I had both expressed an interest in going there when it opened. So, you, Gentle Reader, are spared the plethora of extra run-on sentences, dangling participles and tedious writing that would be entailed by my having to describe the decision process in this narrative (you're still reading the rest of the appalling prose of mine, so that probably doesn't do you much good).

Act II: Public Transportation, An Ode To

Vegetate is located in Shaw, just south of the U street corridor. All that meant to me is that we would have to switch lines to get there. We could have walked from Metro center, but the weather caused a veto from one of the party. Riding the Metro has got to be a favorite activity of mine. There's no better place to people-watch than the subway of a major city (though, almost by definition, minor cities don't have subways). DC's subway is even better since most of the times that I do end up in it, it's just crowded enough to make it bustle with life (but never quite 'hustle') without being packed enough to make my claustrophobia act up. It gives me the time to people-watch in a relaxed accomodating environment. And just for your statistical enjoyment: by my observations, approximately 4.4 people out of every 10 riding the metro are either completely engrossed in listening to their iPods or are in a state of numbed apathy and, as such, wouldn't notice if a crazed homicidal rabbit started lobbing easter eggs at them. Though, to be fair, the rabbit would impinge upon the former group's awareness when it started stealing their video iPods to see if they have episodes of Baywatch in them. But, you get the picture -- Metro: good, people-watching: fun.

Even with changing from the orange to the green line, we were still left with a minor walk to get to Vegetate. Normally, I wouldn't even mention the 5-6 blocks that we had to walk, but it felt like the city had been turned into a maze of wind tunnels. I'm pretty sure that we were only making forward progress due to intense shivering on our parts. After some brownian motion, we managed to find Vegetate, and rushed to it with all the eagerness of pigs to mud.

Act III: Warming Up

Upon entering Vegetate, you immediately get a sense of coziness and an undercurrent of fun (luckily both are embodied in their food as well). The restaurant has 2 floors: the main floor is composed of a small area for dining (and the kitchen) while the top floor consists of a bar/dining area and a seperate dance floor with a DJ booth. The walls downstairs are bright and covered with fun pop art. I think the art changes based on which artist is being exhibited. The upstairs has more of the mood lighting feel to it -- muted ambience that felt odd without pulsating rhythms being played. Beyond the room with the dance floor is a small patio, which would be a great place to have dinner in the summer.

Even though it was relatively early, 6:30ish, the restaurant was packed. We had to wait a few minutes for a table to be readied, so we went upstairs and sat on the lone couch near the bar. (just a note: if you do use the upstairs restrooms, make sure you are feeling strong -- the doors require more elbow grease than one would expect). We were soon seated downstairs next to a calming green wall. The tables and chairs had an almost cafe-ish aesthetic (an upscale cafe, to be sure) which together with the walls and art gave the whole place a relaxed, fun feel to it. However, we soon had better things to think about than the decor. Like, say, drinks.

Act IV: Drink Me, Eat Me

We ended up going the non-alcoholic route, though now I can't remember why. So, turning my attention to the "other" drinks section, I received my first disappointment: they not only didn't have a good organic hot chocolate, but they didn't have hot chocolate at all. Imagine that. So, seeing as how I was in the mood for a hot drink, I settled for a chai, which, considering my Indian roots replete with strong, milky, spicy teas, was a doomed enterprise from the start. I've never quite managed to like "chai" mainly because I think it's a pale shadow of what it should be. Of course, most people here probably couldn't swallow the Indian chai so it's all for the best. As soon as we sat down, we were served their version of an amuse bouche: pickled green beans. This, while at first tasted strange, turned out to be one of those foods that grew on us. Right about now, you're thinking "Pickled green beans and chai? Yuk". Luckily we had finished the beans by the time the drinks arrived and didn't have to experience that blending of tastes first-hand.

The one unfortunate aspect of going to Vegetate during Restaurant Week was that they were only serving the RW menu. I had earlier looked at their full menu online and was very interested intrying several menu items. Alas, that was not to be. The RW menu was pretty decent, if limited in choice.

First Course
Wild Mushroom Trio
wild mushroom baba, tempura oyster mushroom,
and enoki mushroom salad

or
Smokey Tomato Bisque
with a balsamic reduction
and grilled croustade
Second Course
White Bean Cassoulet
with roasted turnips and rutabaga, smoked Portobello mushrooms,
and braised tofu-topped with toasted bread crumbs and a grainy mustard aioli

or
Truffled Crispy Fingerling Potatoes and Roasted Wild Mushrooms
with braised leeks, porcini vinaigrette, and arugula salad
Third Course
Dark Chocolate Cake
with caramel "creme anglaise" and raspberry coulis
topped with shaved chocolate

or
Pineapple and Dried Cherry Fruit Crisp
with oatmeal crumbs and coconut sorbet
They had obviously put some thought into the menu: it was completely vegan and gave you just enough disparate choices that most people would find something to eat in each course.

Act V: Mushroom Fantasies

Since the choice was so limited, between the three of us, we managed to order everything on the menu. The one thing that stood out after we had the food was that Vegetate handled their mushrooms very well. The mushroom appetizer was really good, with the wild mushroom baba -- a mushroom paté -- with its wonderful texture and complex taste, providing an excellent base for showing off the mushrooms. The other appetizer, a tomato bisque didn't let us down either, with the reduction adding just the kind of subtle flavor that tends to go well with a creamy tomato taste.

The food kept arriving in a timely fashion and we didn't have to wait long for anything. We had a nice server, who seemed pretty well-informed and was on the ball. So, we soon we were staring at the bean cassoulet and the truffled potatoes. The bean cassoulet seemed like an example of a dish that was trying too hard. The cassoulet, a dish normally made with beans and meats slow-cooked into a stew, was pretty good. However, the braised tofu didn't mesh well with the rest and had a taste that not only was markedly separate from the rest but one that stoutly refused to play well with the others. It felt like I was having two different dishes. The mustard aioli on the tofu was a wonderful taste and did much to mute my disappointment of the taste disparity. The other entreé certainly didn't have the same problem and turned out pretty decent. The mushrooms there were also nicely done and worked with the potatoes and leeks well.

Not Quite My Just Desserts

The portions for the first two courses were just right and so we had enough space for dessert -- not that I would ever be caught dead skipping dessert. I, of course, went for the dark chocolate cake. I't pretty instinctive by now, and certainly a habit I need to get rid of. This was a case in point: the dark chocolate cake was nice but nothing special. I liked the fact that I could taste the chocolate in the dessert, but the texture, the moistness and its accompaniments didn't really work in its favor. On the other hand, the pineapple and dried cherry fruit crisp looked really good and Huyen certainly liked it.

Ratings

Service Likeable and fast
Decor Warm, fun colors combined with dim lights
Food Cozy vegetarian fare

November 09, 2005

A long hiatus...and a roundup of restaurants

The blog's working again. Though, with the intermittent frequency of my posts here, even I wouldn't have noticed that the blog wasn't working, if I wasn't writing it myself.

In the past few months, I've been to several interesting restaurants and been remiss in writing about them. So, borrowing from the ADD reviews, here's a few relatively short reviews.

Aster

Aster, located in Middleburg, VA is a wonderful experience, especially in the fall. The combination of good food, fantastic service and a nice scenic small town location makes it just about perfect for a fall drive. I liked the combinations of ingredients used, which appealed to my need for interesting combinations without going overboard. I loved the converted home within which the restaurant is located, especially the Cartoon room. I was especially pleased with the cozy, everyone-knows-your-name feel to the place with everyone including the chef-owner dropping by the table.

Indebleu

I finally managed to get to Indebleu for dinner when Sam was visiting. I've managed to go there a few times for drinks & desserts, but had never managed to get there for a proper meal (arguably, drinks and dessert for me is a proper meal). Anyway, other than being seated in a very cold part of the restaurant (our server got Sam a wrap), it was as good as I imagined it would be. The one sour note was that they had removed my favorite dessert from the menu.

Local 16

Rekha and I went to Local 16 before a play on a weekday. It was an interesting experience -- I would definitely go back there, but not necessarily for the food. The menu at Local 16 tried hard but wasn't quite successful at getting there. However, I liked it, our server and the interesting mix of people there enough to want to go back.

Yuca

Yuca was one of those serendipitous happenings -- we happened to pass by it and decided to eat there. I liked the bright decor, though it was a little on the generic side. The food was decent: the black bean soup lacked a little panache, which it made up for in quantity. The fried plantains and the chorizo were both good, as were the mojitos.

Oyamel

Jose Andres' latest restaurant specializing in small plates is very similar to his others. By which I mean, I'll go there every opportunity I get. Just about everything I've had there has been good, though the one time I had the sangria, I found it to be lacking.

February 04, 2005

Corduroy: Just like the fabric

Players: Rekha and moi

Pre-prandial

The last-minute decision was to go to Corduroy for dinner. Rekha had initially suggested the Willard for dinner, and we eventually decided on Corduroy. So, we decided to instead go to Indebleu and the Willard for drinks.

The Willard was what I expected it to be...old world with a well-dressed crowd. It seemed like a nice place to have a drink -- friendly, quick service and a nice, quite decor. Rekha liked it rather more than I did. We had a drink each and tons of the bar nuts before heading for Indebleu. All the museum'ing had made us hungry (the reason for the outing was to see an exhibit by Cai Guo-Qiang at the Hirshhorn)

At Indebleu, we did the usual: drinks and dessert. This time for a dessert, we had the "Choco Sutra", which is a concoction of several different chocolates (white chocolate waffle, flourless chocolate cake and a dark chocolate ribbon around it) with brandied cherries over a pomegranate glaze. It sounded great, looked cool and tasted pretty decent. I infinitely preferred the profiteroles and hot chocolate dessert over this one. My big problem with this one was that there was no subtlety in the dessert. The only interesting part was the pomegranate glaze and that was mildly overdone.

Having sated ourselves with drinks and dessert, we proceeded to waddle on over to Corduroy

Initial Impressions

Corduroy is located on the second floor of the Four Points Sheraton at 12th and K. By the time we walked over to it, it was sleeting/snowing, for which neither of us was prepared, and we were just happy to reach any safe harbor at that point. Even though there is a big sign on the hotel for Corduroy, you could easily miss it if you were looking for a restaurant at street level.

Once you walk up to the second floor (or take the elevator) and look around, you realize that Corduroy still has a very ordinary presence: located next to the fitness center, it almost looks like a hotel cafe or dining room. To extend that impression even more, the rest rooms for Corduroy are located outside the restaurant and past the fitness center.

Once you enter Corduroy, it continues to be subdued and quiet. However, it does something magical and presents more of a warm, comfortable atmosphere than one would expect. The restaurant is done in dark wood, mirrors and shades of brown, with occasional nondescript artwork on the walls. One of the things I tend to dislike in restaurants is mirrors on the walls. If you are seated facing the wall (and hence the mirror), you usually can see everything that is happening behind you as well as yourself. This tends to be distracting to me (and no, not because I'm narcissistic and keep staring at myself). If I happen to be seated with my back to the wall, I have to deal with my companion(s) being distracted. However, Corduroy dealt with this problem well, by having only half-length mirrors and hanging them at such an angle that I could only see people in the immediate vicinity behind me -- and I couldn't see myself. It was perfect, since I was never surprised by waiters showing up behind me, and yet I didn't have to deal with what was happening in the rest of the restaurant.

The name of the restaurant, however, continued to confuse. About the only genuflection towards the name that we saw was in the menus, which were covered in corduroy. A nice touch, but I'm sure it felt a little lonely being the only touch of corduroy decor. Not that I want to see a restaurant swathed in corduroy.

Once in, we were immediately seated at a table (me facing the mirrored wall, of course) and thereupon all inspection of decor ceased, and the perusal of the menu began.

Repast

The first thing you notice about Corduroy's menu is its simplicity. The focus is all on the main ingredient, whether it be salmon, or cheese. It was very evident that the chef wanted to highlight a central ingredient rather than create a fusion of tastes. This seemed inline with Corduroy's no-frills approach to decor. We settled on the "Buffalo mozzarella porcupine" as the appetizer, though there were a couple of other tempting starters. For the entrees, there was not much competition for us. We both ordered the fish dishes: tuna for me and salmon for Rekha. I was briefly seduced by the wagyu beef dish but decided to stick with the fish.

The appetizer arrived relatively quickly. As the name hints at, the dish is a ball of mozzarella in a shell of fried phyllo dough that has been "julienned", resembling a porcupine. The mozzarella is accompanied by a tart tomato sauce and a basil sauce, which combined well with the cheese.

The main courses arrived minutes after we finished the appetizer. I had ordered a seared rare tuna over sushi rice and a sesame vinaigrette. It tasted very good, in part due to the well-sized chunk of rare tuna at the center of it all. The sushi rice and vinaigrette added a nice touch, almost like sushi but with a twist. I enjoyed it a lot, though the portion was a mite generous for me. The salmon came with wild mushrooms and had a very homogeneous flavor to it. It tasted pretty good, but wasn't remarkable in any way.

As usual, even though I was stuffed by this point, we couldn't resist dessert. Well, I couldn't resist dessert. Rekha decide to opt out. I ordered the pistachio bread pudding. It turned out to be a a square of cake-like pudding with layers of pistachio pate sanwiched inbetween. The overall taste was very good, with the nuttiness of the pistachio shining through. Unfortunately, I couldn't do justice to the dessert since it was on the heavy side, and had to leave it half-finished.

Conclusion

I liked corduroy. The ambience was warm and comfortable, with a subdued, almost introverted feel to it. The focus on a central ingredient was refreshing and the food was good.

I haven't mentioned the service at Corduroy so far, because it wasn't much of a factor. It was quick, mostly unobtrusive and helpful. This is a good thing.

Ratings

Corduroy Review
Service Unobtrusive and helpful
Decor Comfortable and subdued
Food Good, solid and pleasing

January 16, 2005

Ortanique (with a dash of Indebleu): Ethnically Inspired

Players: Dids, Sunit, Rekha, John, and moi

Act I: The need for alcoholic consumption

Well, it wasn't so much the need for alcoholic consumption that brought me to Indebleu, as it was the need to be efficient, garner two birds with one stone, make hay while the sun shines, and other such pithy meaningless phrases. To be specific, it is my wont when driving into DC, to experience as many of its wondrous pleasures as I can while there. Since we were already slated to be in town for dining at Ortanique for DC Restaurant Week (RW), I did wonder out aloud (and by means of email e'en) whether anyone would like to arrive earlier and join me for drinks before the main event. Well, Dids, Sunit and John , having been planning to drive down together felt that they couldn't make it in any earlier due to diverse reasons, including the rather crucial one that John is invariably tardy. So, it fell upon Rekha and me to handle this part of the evening. Given the plethora of chocies available near MCI Center, it is truly a wonder that we managed to decide upon Indebleu so fast. Rekha had initially suggested Poste, but was won over by my description of Indebleu.

We both arrived at Indebleu at around the same time, tho Rekha was already seated at the bar by the time I got there. Given that only 2 weeks had passed since I was last at Indebleu, not much had changed, save that it was more crowded. That didn't distract us from our main task of sampling the wares at the bar. Both of us were trying out different drinks: I had a Kama Sutra and a Spanky while Rekha had a Neontini and some other drink that the fog of alcohol has erased from my mind. In the midst of the imbibing, I felt a sudden need for solid sustenance. Now, I would normally (in my safer, saner, somber-er days) have asked for the appetizer/bar menu. However, having recently resolved to throw caution to the winds, gastronomically speaking, I convinced Rekha that ordering from the dessert menu was the correct choice here. Upon being handed said dessert menu, the very first choice we saw looked intriguing enough that we went for it: Oreo kulfi profiteroles with cardamom hot chocolate (not without much agony and angst since some of the other items looked almost as seductive, especially the (sic) Choco Sutra).

When the dish arrived, it looked scrumptious and pictureque. It consisted of 3 profiteroles, each of which was made up of a scoop of oreo kulfi [1] sandwiched between a small round pastry cake sliced into two. Along with the profiteroles was a small cup of strong hot chocolate flavored with cardamom. The effect was simply sublime.

The Lounge at Indebleu
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
The Lounge at Indebleu

After polishing off the dessert, we decided to retire to the lounge to finish our drinks. The lounge is done in shades of red and yellow, and is nice and comfy. Just watch out for those $200 table minimums during prime time. Around this time, we realized that it was almost time to make like a tree....and head to dinner.

Act II: The Restaurant

Ortanique
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
The varied decor at Ortanique

Ortanique was pretty close by, seeing how it is located near Metro Center, and that we went to Indebleu since it was close by. When we got there, the rest of the party were already waiting and so we all went in together. The immediate impression one gets walking into Ortanique is one of warmth and old-fashined aesthetics. Pillars with painted on ortanique vines. A massive red wall with sheer curtains running down its entire length, and a fishtank with a huge projection screen showing a live feed from the fishtank.

We were led to a corner booth which gave us a nice view of the restaurant. Along with the booth, we also inherited one of the most garrulous servers I've ever had. He was fun, had a sense of humor, and gave pretty good service. You can just see him to the left in the picture of Ortanique. He did in fact raise the entire level of the experience with his interactions with our group.

Act III: Decisions

Ortanique
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
Us, enjoying dinner

For restaurant week, Ortanique had, in its infinite wisdom, decided to forego simplicity and the KISS principle in lieu of complexity and confusion. The normal restuarant menu was annotated to indicate RW items. Double asterisks indicated items that were on the RW menu, items with supplemental charges on the side in parentheses indicated items that could be used in the RW menu for additional money, and the non annotated items weren't available for the RW menu. Sounds kind of simple, except if you were sitting there, trying to understand the servers explain this to you.

Most of Ortanique's menu, as befits its Caribbean roots, is seafood. There was one vegetarian entree (available in the RW menu, too) and some animal dishes, but for the most part, it was fish and various other denizens of the deep. Being 5 people at dinner, we tried to order so as maxmize the potential for sharing and tasting different dishes. We ended up with the mango salad, curried crab cakes, steamed mussels and the ceviche of the day (shrimp) as the appetizers. For the main course, we had the Bahamian black grouper, the Caribbean seared ahi tuna and the Seafood bouillabaisse. There were only two choices for dessert: rum cake and banana bread pudding, and our table ended up with both. All this took much longer than you would think, but eventually we got it all sorted out.

Act IV: Partaking of the Sea

The food arrived pretty fast, though that might just be an effect of the old, hackneyed adage: Time flies when etc., etc. The mango salad, while following an used formula, was well done with a nice blending of the various flavors. The mango in there was green unripe mango, which added a tartness that worked well in the dish. The curried crab cakes were the hit of the table with everyone exclaiming over them. Flavorful with the taste of the crab meat coming through in a distinct fashion. A good start to the evening.

The seared ahi tuna
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
The tuna entree

As for the main courses, they were uniformly good. The grouper was marinated in teriyaki and sesame oil with a orange and limon liqueur sauce. This was paired with a sweet plantain mash and julienned chayote and carrots. The fish was cooked almost to perfection, tho for some it might have been slightly overdone, and the teriyaki influence while present wasn't overpowering. A very nice combination. The tuna was done right (as asked: rare and medium rare) and the accompaniments seemed secondary to the fish itself. The bouillabaisse was tasty fro mall acounts, though I only tasted the lobster in there. The coconut flavor in there was very evident.

The food so far having sated us, we looked forward to the desserts (my second dessert course for the night). The desserts, when they arrived, looked good with decent-sized portions. The banana bread pudding was a little banana-y and about the only dish, none of us were enthralled with. The rum cake on the other hand was gooood, and made a great end to the meal.

Act V: Conclusion

Ortanique was a good experience. The food was good, and sometimes very good. The jazz band upstairs was inconsistent but added nicely to the ambience. All in all, an enjoyable repast. Our server certainly added to the whole experience with his vibrant personality.

Ratings

Ortanique
Service Fast, Interesting and Fun
Decor Warm and Varied
Food Good seafood with occasional brilliance

Footnotes

  1. Kulfi is the Indian version of ice cream: dense and creamy with strong flavors.

January 12, 2005

Kaz Sushi Bistro: Mediocrity, thy name is ...

Bobby, Susan, Neil, Francois, Corinna and moi

Act I: Restaurant Week Decisions

So, DC Restaurant Week (RW) approaches and I start prodding people to see if anyone is interested in going out to eat. Well, Bobby and Susan are usually up for food, so we sort of decide that that's a good idea, and leave it alone. About a week before RW we start figuring out when we can make it. Bobby's roped in more people, which is cool: the more, the merrier. Of course, getting everyone to agree on a day and a restaurant is nearly impossible. Hence, we get no verdict until Friday to go somewhere on Tuesday, which leaves few options. However, Kaz Sushi Bistro had seatin available on opentable, so that was the decision.

Act II: Getting there is half the fun

As usual, in order to make it to DC is always an adventure. Drive to East Falls, Take the Orange line in to DC and switch lines if needed. In this case, Bobby, Susan, Neil and moi had decided to meet at Dupont for drinks. I, of course, decide that stretching my legs is a good idea and so walk to Dupont from Farragut West. One the way, I get lost (well, not really, but I went a couple of blocks further than I should have), got solicited for money about half a dozen times , stopped for a hot chocolate at Caribou Coffee [1], and got helpful advice from a building security guard on the advisability of carrying umbrellas. After getting to Dupont, we decided to get drinks at Pizzeria Paradiso (Plan A). We walk in and were told that the "bar" is in reality a counter and we shouldn't sit and have drinks there. So, we implemented Plan B, which was to go to the Brickskeller. As usual, the first 3 beers that bobby wanted weren't available (one wasn't even on the menu). So we settled for other choices (Lindeman's Cassis for me, The Raven for Susan, a Sierra for Neil and something in a cool looking bottle for Bob). Of course, we had to quaff the beers down in order to have enough time to walk to Kaz and meet Francois and Corinna there on time.

Act III: The Restaurant

So, we arrive at Kaz, and I was immediately impressed that the restaurant had the sense to have removed the plug-ugly awning that you can see a picture of on their site. Impression #1: good. Moving into the restaurant, we spied the rest of our party already seated at a table and so we made our way there. Now, lest you get the idea that this took some time, desist! The restaurant is small and cozy and thus it took us only about 5 steps to arrive at our table. Having sat down and murmured the customary hellos and nicetoseeyas, I began eyeing the decor. White walls holding melanges of art that were interspersed with cutouts in the wall that held twigs backlit with different brightly colored lighting (this looks much better than my description seems to convey). Impression #3: soothing decor. The place does look like they have put in as many tables as the space can hold. Try not to bang your knees into things while walking around. Impression #4: Cramped space.

Kaz's had a seperate RW menu available. You could choose 1 appetizer (out of 4), 5 "main" dishes (nigiri, rolls, etc) and 1 dessert. After a lot of discussion, all of us went with the RW menu, at least initially. I ordered the grilled baby octopus, 3 rolls and a couple of nigiri, along with the banana tempura. In addition to choosing from the RW menu, Bobby and Francois had to order sake flights (damn alcohol connoisseurs).

Act IV: The Feasting

After a short wait, the appetizers arrived. My baby octopus dish was small (which was expected) but chewy (which wasn't). This seemed especially disappointing after eating Ceiba's grilled octopus salad a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, the other appetizers seemed to be doing better. The fried calamari was acceptably cooked though not great, and the mussels were realy good (though I didn't taste any). I was willing to give the restuarant a break seeing as how it was pretty packed for dinner, and hoped the entrees would be better.

The rest of the meal didn't start off any better. It took almost 30 minutes after finishing our appetizers for the main courses to arrive. Our server explained this away by mentioning that the kitchen had to get everyone's order to the table at the same time, thus taking longer. (Of course, no other restaurant is afflicted with this high standard of service. Thus allowing them to get dishes tothe table faster *rolls eyes*). When the dishes finally arrived, we were starving. My main course looked pretty interesting: Salmon and Tuna nigiri, a DC roll, a red pepper and asparagus roll, and a spicy tuna roll. I went pretty conservative with the choices since I like to figure out how well a restaurant does with the standard items, especially a sushi restaurant. Getting 3 rolls was a bit much, but luckily I was starving.

The tuna and salmon pieces were decent. The meat was acceptable but nothing to write home about. I can pretty much echo that sentiment for the 3 rolls as well. I had high hopes for the DC roll, but somehow the flavors in that were pretty subdued. I tried Neil's "fushion" sushi choice of tuna with pesto, which was interesting in that the pesto gave it a zing that simutaneously took away from and added to the taste of the fish, depending upon what you were looking for from it. I think it's something that I would order only for the sheer novelty factor.

The finale came in the form of dessert. My banana tempura was pretty decent. Served with a black rasberry ice-cream. It was interesting and tasted pretty good. Apparently, the green tea tiramisu was really good.

Act V: Conclusion

From the faces of people around the table, everyone seemed to be a mite disappointed with the food. We had expected better from Kaz's. Dessert did seem to partially make up for the mediocrity of the main course, but the overall experience didn't quite live up to our expectations. In Kaz's defense, I should say that we didn't actually try much of the "fushion" (or chef's speciality) items that were on the main menu, mostly due to the choices present in the RW menu.

Ratings

Kaz Sushi Bistro
Service Slow and mediocre
Decor Sudued but interesting
Food Decent sushi but below expectations

Footnotes

  1. Caribou's hot chocolate is even worse than Starbucks, if that's possible. The only thing good about it was that it was hot enough to please on a cool evening.

January 08, 2005

IndeBleu & Ceiba: Dynamic Duo

Players: Dids and moi

Act I: Begin the Beguine

So Dids and I decided to out to dinner in DC the eve before new year's eve. Sorta the precursor to the celebration. I drove up to pick her up from work and then took the Red line into the city. Taking the Metro from the 'burbs into the city is always an interesting experience. While I mostly travel the orange line ("yuppies to the left of us, yuppies to the right of us ..."[1]), taking the western branch of the red line from that far north proved not to be that different. Since we actually had some time, we ventured forth into DC in search of the mythical National Christmas Tree, which from certain angles looks decidedly hunchbacked. Notwithstanding the deformities of said landmark, it still made an impressive sight. One that unfortunately was overshadowed by the blazingly huge yule log fire burning near it (they had forklifts shoving massive logs into the firepit). After appropriate genuflections in the direction of the tree and the fire, we proceeded onwards and eastwards to IndeBlue.

Act II: IndeBleu

Now, there was a lot of talk going on about Indebleu in various circles: the Washington Post has a couple of small pieces mentioning it, there were posts about it on eGullet and a bunch of other mentions including DCist and the DC Socialites. All this intrigued me enough that I wanted to go experience the wonder that was supposed to be IndeBleu. I was hoping that it was measure up favorably to the only other Indian fusion restaurant in this area: Saffron in B'more.

Since we already had reservations at Ceiba for dinner, and were in town much earlier than that, it seemed like a good opportunity to head to IndeBleu for drinks. We headed over there at around 5:15, at which point the bar has just opened and the place was deserted. I didn't mind that since it allowed us to talk with the bartenders (who seemed like fun people to have bartending) and poke our noses around the place.

We managed to cadge a tour from Arjun after one of the bartenders asked him to give us one. The main bar is the first thing you see when you enter IndeBleu: long, sleek and modern. Most of the bottles are hidden behind panels, which is a nice touch. I'm tired of seeing bars displaying all the bottles as if it were something to be proud of. Behind the bar was the lounge, complete with a central sunken area with sorta communal lounge-y seating. If you are eating, you get to head upstairs, where you will encounter the secondary bar, which is smaller, better lit and is right in front of the wine storage. You also, by design, get to pass in front of the kitchen table/booth, which can be rotated to kill tow birds with one stone: to afford the diners a measure of privacy from the people walking past on their way to the main dining rooms, and also to get a view of the chefs at work. Very nice. Walking onwards you arrive at the private dining room, which is suavely decorated in themes of red. This connects to the main dining room (that can also be reached from the stairs near the upstairs bar). All in all, I got the sense that the Bleu people had spent a lot of time and money on the decor of the place and it shows.

Back at the bar, we got to looking at the bar drinks menu (I'm not sure whether I'm allowed to have the image up on the site), which is cleverly done to resemble the Metro map. We ordered the Mangotini (simple but delicious), the Spanky (the crushed rasberries made the drink) and the Truth or Consequences (smooth, tasty and just a little too subtle). There were quite a few other drinks I wanted to try but getting drunk wasn't on the menu. We also ordered food from the lounge menu, which is limited but appropriately so. We got the foie gras sandwich appetizer, which was done nicely but no great shakes. The bartenders were also kind enough to provide us with the dining menu and there were quite a few things that looked tempting and were enough to warrant a second expedition back to Indebleu.

Overall, without having tasted the food, Indebleu seems like a nice concept that destined to be successful: it's got great decor, a nice lounge, a fun bar menu, and menu items that seem a little pretentious (but hopefully live up to their descriptions) and of course, location!

I'm not being particularly descriptive about the decor or food because I'm writing this almost 2 weeks after the event. Maybe a better, fuller review will be forthcoming soon. I wrote another short review of Indeblue at Ortanique (with a dash of Indebleu): Ethnically Inspired

Act IIII: Ceiba

After Indebleu, we walked over to Ceiba, which was chosen partly due to DC Foodies' raving about Ceiba and partly cause I was in a ceviche kind of mood.

The decor at Ceiba, to say the least, is ummm....eclectic. From where we were seated, we could see at least 3 different decor themes, not counting the pink background of the bar. This was all the more apparent after having been at Indebleu. However, all for forgiven and forgotten once the food arrived.

As I seem to be doing frequently of late, we ordered mainly appetizers for the entire meal [2]. We started with the ceviche sampler, which gets you all four ceviches from the appetizer section. Note that this is enough to sample only for two people. If you have more than two, ordering only one smapler is going to be a disappointment. The ceviches themselves ran the range from okay (the grouper) to really good (the shrimp and the bass). Of course my bias towards more flavorful dishes is definitely at play here. I'm not normally a shrimp person, but the shrimp ceviche was particularly well done.

To follow up the ceviches, we had the crab fritters and the octopus salad. The former were mediocre, more heavily fried than I would have liked since it deadened the crab taste. However, the latter was simply awesome. Some of the best octopus I've had in a while, and probably the best non-fried octopus I've ever had. The dish is very well done with other ingredients (cheese and aioli) adding their own flavors to the octopus without detracting from it. This dish alone is worth the visit.

I almost forgot to mention the drinks. Instead of going with instincts and ordering a Caiprinha or a Mojito, I ordered a Yucatan Sunset. It was nice, but not memorable (hence me almost forgetting to mention it).

Act IV: Conclusion

I liked both Ceiba and IndeBleu, but for different reasons obviously. Indebleu has had a lot of thought go into it, from the drink menus to the decor. Not having tasted the food there, the pronouncement on that will have to be postponed. Ceiba on the other hand underwhelmed me with its decor and ambience, but I loved the food.

Ratings

IndeBleu
Service Fast and friendly
Decor Sophisticated and generally well done
Food Opinion withheld, but the drinks were interesting and well-made
Ceiba
Service Friendly and good
Decor Eclectic
Food Wonderful seafood

Footnotes

  1. Says the guy who is writing a review about IndeBleu and Ceiba. Pot, kettle, black.
  2. A couple of weeks ago at Cafe Atlantico, three of us had ordered the entire appetizer section including the appetizer special for the day. This turned out to be an awesome choice.

September 15, 2002

Mandalay: Inviting waters...

Abstract:An irregular outing in that it was for Sunday lunch. However, it all turned out for the best. My writing however in this review is pretty insipid and uninspired, so apologies in advance of you reading this.

Players:Back to the original trio of gangstas: Susan, Bobby and myself

Prologue: Behind the Curtain

Imagine a glorious day -- the bright sun a beacon in the sky beckoning you to bask in its warm glow and go frolicking in meadows, blue skies with a hint of wispy clouds like pale brushstrokes intended to highlight the blueness of the heavens and a slight breeze that ruffles people's hair without dissarranging it. All in all, a day that made you thankful to have the opportunity to enjoy it. Thus was the weather on the day of this outing [1]. The gods were smiling, candystripers skipping along while helping people and humanity was generally in a very mellow mood (except for those who weren't.)

It was a Sunday, and I had promised Bobby that I would come over to his place to look at his new toys on my way back from my sister's. So I arrive there at 11ish and get treated to Bob's new sound system. It sounded pretty good....and if I had more discerning ears, it probably would have sounded much better -- but at some point, my ears reach the peak of their operating efficiency and everything better than that point sounds about the same. Anyway, enough about the new audio setup (except that most of the equipment was from Nad, about whose name the less said the better.)

Given that I had to get back home in a couple of hours, we didn't have time for a long, lingering lunch or even a long, lingering discussion of where to go for lunch. It turned out that, Bobby having gone to take a shower, Susan and I decided that it was either an unnamed Italian place close by that we hadn't eaten at, or it was a Burmese place on Route 1 called Mandalay. The decision was short and easy.

Act I: The Setting

Mandalay is located on Rte. 1 within the beltway, near the UMD campus in College Park, MD. Anyone who's seen this part of the road knows that it's a veritable plethora of commercial and retail enterprises. The surroundings look busy, mostly due to the number of cars venturing hither and tither. However, there are very few people to be seen, and so I have no idea as to why I was left with this impression of busy-ness.

Mandalay is located in a small single-storey building on the east side of the road that seemed to house only a couple of establishments. It's kind of hard to know where to turn since the presence of Mandalay is only heralded by a yellow sign, and it's almost too late to turn by the time you read the sign. There's ample parking in front, side and back of the building. In fact the back resembles a free-for-all parking jamboree with no delineations for parking spaces, or where the parking lot ends. Its operating philosophy seems to be " Here's a blank canvas -- paint your car in there somewhere and make it look good."

Act II: Be it ever so humble...

When you enter Mandalay, you get hit with a sense of blandness and homeliness. The decor is simple and not much to speak of. The walls are painted a light sea green, and there are paintings and trinkets hung on the walls. It has two big windows on the front, which let in a goodly amount of light thereby brightening up the whole interior. There are about a dozen cheap-looking tables occupying the floor space, scattered about in an organized fashion. The whole place seems like the owners paid minimal attention to all the accessories and environment -- which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since all their attention went to the preparation of food, as we see later in this adventure.

Being a Sunday, and around noon, there weren't too many people at the restaurant. We were seated immediately by the friendly staff, and the only delay in our orders was due to the fact the we couldnt' make up our minds as to what to get.

Act III: Smiles and Spices

Now, Bob and Susan had been here before several times, and so they were in a quandry -- get the usual, or try something new. Meanwhile, I was happily lost amidst the unique choices the menu presented me with. There were the dishes with sour mustard (Chicken with sour mustard), those with mango pickle (pork with mango pickle) and a bunch of less exotic sounding dishes. The Burmese cuisine seems to have been influenced by not only India and Thailand, but also China, which made for a rather scrumptious menu (sorry, I just had to use that word). The food seemed to concentrate on highlighting one or two ingredients, but that didn't mean that the taste was simple. In fact, some of the dishes turned out to have rather subtle and complex tastes.

Bob ended up ordering one of his favorites, a noodle dish, while Susan ordered the tomato-tofu curry. I decided to order a cabbage salad and the chicken with sour mustard. I couldn't resist the latter, being curious concerning the taste of a dish with sour mustard in it (and not knowing what sour mustard was). Now, let's focus in on one particular part of the ordering process: after each person stated what they wanted, the waiter would ask what level of spiciness that person wanted. Now, Susan was the first to go, and she, after an initial hesitation, decided to go with "spicy" (the other choices being medium and mild). This small and rather insignificant utterance almost was our downfall. Since Susan went with spicy, neither Bobby nor I could go with anything less. There lieth the problem.

The salad arrived very promptly. It was a composed of a bunch of juliened veggies, cabbage and lettuce. It tasted amazingly good...with a myriad of flavors engaged in a friendly fight over which one got to tickle your taste buds. Unfortunately, the salad was soon over, but we didn't have to wait long for the main courses to arrive.

My dish, the chicken with sour mustard, was very good and very spicy. At least I thought it was very spicy until I tasted Susan's curry. Gak. That crystallized the meaning of "pleasure and pain". The taste was wunnerful -- probably the best tofu dish I've had to date. However, the spice was killer. The amazing part was that the spice didn't overwhelm the other flavors in the dish. Bobby's dish, while not quite as spicy as Susan's, was just as good. Other than the fact that my stomach was writhing in agony -- well, it was mostly my taste buds that were doing the sad dance. My stomach was just practicing for what was to come in the near future.

Epilogue: What's a Climax without dessert?

[Yes, it's the same heading as one of the previous reviews, but it's such a nice one] In order to sooth the savage beast that was my stomach, I decided that dessert and iced tea might be called for. Mandalay offers a very limited variety of desserts. However, one of them called "Shweji" looked appealing. It was made out of baked semolina, coconut cream and sugar, with some raisins addded in for fun. It looked similar to an Indian dessert called Sheera. It tasted pretty good to me -- though I don't think Susan was quite taken with the taste.

Ratings

Service Fast and very friendly
Decor Bland and uninteresting
Food Very good

Footnotes:

  1. Frankly, the weather had nothing whatsoever to do with the food outing, except that it put me in a really good mood -- and that might color my highly subjective opinion of the restaurant and the food.

February 12, 2002

Thyme Square Cafe: A Study In Green Contrapositions

Abstract: A day of opposites, but all in all a good experience -- good food, splendid company and a rainy day.

Players: Susan, Morgane, Bobby and Yours Truly made up the quartet this time around. The staff didn't play much of a role, except as a possible somber foil for the rest of the cast.

Act I, Scene I: Jolly Nice Weather We're Having, Old Chap

The weather is always a safe subject that everyone agrees on. Sunny = nice. Rainy = bad. Icy = very bad. There's some variability, but for the most part, general consensus runs rampant. So, onto my first contrariness for the day. I wake up this morning, peer out of my bedroom window, and decide that I've been abducted by aliens and placed in a limbo dimension awaiting my fate. Now, thoughts like this can be excused by the fact that I (the non-corporeal, holistic me) was still asleep even though my body was being forced to wake up at the insistence of the alarm clock which I had forgotten to turn off in spite of it being a Sunday. Well, thoughts like that also tend to shake you awake due to the sheer absurdity of them. A tiny little siren goes off in the inner depths of my being, indicating to the PTB that the hoi polloi are rioting due to scare-mongering tactics by the militant left-wingers. Of course, this sets off immediate and drastic action on the part of the ruling junta, the end result being that I lose a few brain cells, but retain what's left of my sanity. An internal memo goes around informing everyone that it's merely very dense fog on the outside, and there's nothing to worry about -- It's just the weather. Then, in order to further disassociate any feelings of panic and doom from the general public, the cabal authorizes the release of endorphins. Now, all of this happens in just a few nano-seconds. By the time the beast that is my consciousness wakes up completely, it is left with a confused feeling of anxiety that is quickly replaced with an all-encompassing feeling of happiness. Thus, my mostly unexplainable embracing of the dreary, foggy, rainy weather that befell us on this surprisingly pleasant day.

Act I, Scene II: I Say, Librarian Ahoy?

Having decided that the day was indeed a glorious one, I decided to leave early for the brunch and visit a bookstore. Specifically, The Barnes & Noble that is next to Thyme Square Cafe in Bethesda -- what with it being convenient et al. After the usual 35 minute trip to Bethesda, I walk in there and decided that I wanted a book on the Knights Templars. Hmmmm....where would I be likely to get help? Luckily for me the folks at B&N anticipated my predicament and had a big sign reading "Information Desk" that seemed to invite all souls in literary distress to gather around and petition the Oracles within. Elated by this wonderful example of forward thinking on the part of the B&N management, I sauntered over and proceeded to get the attention of one of the high priestesses at the desk through the simple expedient of giving her my most winning smile. She, obviously thinking I was in great distress due to the expression on my face, immediately asked me if she could help me. So, I asked her if they stocked books about the Knights Templar, and if so, where would I be able to find them. Apparently, as with most Oracles, it seems we had communication problems. Unlike communications problems with Oracles of old, which centered around the Oracles sniffing various gases and substances to enhance their far-seeing ability, this communication could be laid at the feet of ignorance. She, while being nice enough, decided that I meant the "Nights Temple" and proceeded to type such a query in. The encounter degenerated from there, and wasn't helped by me mentioning the Crusades, or anything else relevant. I finally gave up and decided that this reflected yet another contrary event for this day -- Non-knowledgeable Information Desk people.

Thyme Square Cafe
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
Thyme Square in all its glory

Act I, Scene III: Subtle, it ain't

Thyme Square Cafe
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
Susan and Bobby bemused by the gigantic vegetables

Having decided that B&N was scaring me, and having remembered that I had decided to take pictures this time around[1], I walked on over to the Cafe. If you've never seen TSC (Thyme Square Cafe) before, it definitely worth a look. Set amongst a bustling neighborhood and city where restaurants seem to go out of their way to blend in, TSC decided on the opposite route. The external decor catches your attention, through the ocular equivalent of a punch in the solar plexus. It isn't as painful or violent, but does take your breath away. The walls are a rustic yellow, reminiscent of adobe dwellings. Liberally, almost grandiosely painted on the walls are fruits and vegetables, all of which as green. Now, this isn't just green as in painted green (which they are), but green as in only fruits and vegetables that are actually green -- pears, green peppers, peas, etc. Of course, if you take the time to reflect on this a little bit, you see the word play. TSC is all about green food i.e. healthy food. If you haven't already figured out from the name, someone at TSC likes puns.

Anyway, I took a picture of the restaurant, and about the same time Susan and Bobby made their presence felt. Timing it just right, Morgane calls and says she will be late, so the three of us decide to venture forth and wait for her inside, what with us starting to be barraged by the raindrop-shaped little missiles of watery doom. And yes, it was still a wonderful day.

 

 

Act I, Scene IV: "Of Course I'm Schizoid." "No, I'm not"

Thyme Square Cafe
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
Looking from the purple wall end towards the explosion of color. You can also see the bar on the right

So, we go in, and my first impression is "huh". So as not to deceive, I should say that I approve of the interior decor. It is fun and kinda buoys your spirits. However, there's this weird feel to the place, as if it was a design-by-committee. Not the usual give and take where you end up with the lowest common denominator, but the schizoid process whereby everyone does whatever they want to their allocated section of the restaurant. You look to the left, and the walls are a riot of colors, emblazoned with multi-colored fruits and vegetables. Very fun and spirited. Look to the right and you are treated to purple walls with multiple copies of a painting that looks like it came straight out of Ikea, and tiny multi-colored lights above each table. Look straight and slightly to your right, and you see a bar that seems to be acting kind of like the divider between the two sections, trying mightily to reconcile the two through it's sheer existence. Finally, you get the completely incongruous plastic trees that are wrapped around the supporting beams that are strewn around the place. The hope being that plastic trees (only the trunk mind you, no leaves or branches) are better than thin columns -- someone was obviously not thinking. All in all, you have a feeling that the designer of this place would do very well when given full rein, and seems to have come out of the school of design that's a mysterious blend of "Willy Wonka", "Wizard of Oz", "Toys", the Museum of Modern Art and bad Scandinavian furniture design. Mmmmmmmmmm.

We were greeted by a timid looking waitress who looked like she would be more comfortable in goth chic than in whatever she was wearing. I figure practicality and job demands prevailed and we got treated to the pale shadow of what she could have been. She was a little hesitant but otherwise she was fine.

Act II, Scene I: Ahh, behold the power of.....Health Food?

The restaurant was completely empty, partly because they had just opened, and partly because people don't seem to go to brunch until much later. Our waitress was still inserting the day's specials into the menu, and got flustered since she now had to do two tasks. Humans...nature's multi-tasking machine. She, for some reason unknown to us, took us to the somber (i.e. purple wall) side of the restaurant. That set me to wondering whether we looked like the type of people who would be happier sitting under purple walls than under red, green and generally brilliant hued enclosures. Does the wait staff over there make quick, on-the-spur decisions as to whether I'm a purple person or a vibrant red? I would love to hear their reasoning. And can I get training in this?

The menus, to along with the food-colored theme, were pumpkin colored (or at least they left that impression[2]). I don't remember much about the actual items on the menus themselves, but on the whole they looked pretty appetizing. As evidenced by the fact that it took me a while to figure out what I wanted. While we were waiting, we decided to while time away by having drinks (Coffee for Susan and a Harvest Moon for me. The latter being a delicious concoction of apple, pear, pineapple, and a bunch of other fruits topped off with almonds and honey. Mmmm, mmmm, good) and admiring Susan & Bobby's photographs[3]. In keeping with the theme of photographs, discussions were had about how various parts of the restaurant would photograph well.

I should say a few words about the menu, what with this being superficially a restaurant review. The first thing to catch my eye were the fruit smoothies, and I would certainly like to try all of them. They had about half a dozen of them on the menu and they all sounded good. Then they had what I classify as normal entree choices broken up by whether they were vegetarian, fishy or chickenish. I call them standard, but they had elements of nouveau cuisine in there with a dash (or more like a dollop) of healthiness thrown in for good measure. There was also the brunch menu, and more will be said about that later. One of the things the Thyme Square prides itself on is that it only uses organic, locally grown produce when possible, and I appreciate that. Although, if you are allergic to puns, do not, I repeat do not, look at the back page of the menu. About the time I finished scrutinizing the menu, Morgane popped in.

Act II, Scene II: Let the games begin

Thyme Square Cafe
Above: (Click image for a larger picture)
The rest of the cast posing for the first official cast picture for an Exotic Outing. Bobby, Susan and Morgane. All smiles are we.

Morgane, being Morgane (which all told is how it should be -- impersonating other people doesn't work well) apologized profusely for being late. We teased her about it for a while, but since she had a good reason, we relented[4]. Our waitress immediately came by, being the stellar exemplar of her profession. We decided that Morgane needed more time to peruse the menu, but she did manage to get a pear concoction that seemed to be pretty good. The talk then turns around to the usual swapping of stories and also, since Morgane hadn't seen them, The Photographs (remind me next time to wait until all are accounted and present before perusing the pics). By and by, our lovely hostess walks over and we all make last-minute hurried decisions about our food. Bobby, Susan and I decided on getting the "omelette with grilled asparagus and roasted Yukon gold home fries", while Morgane, ever the individual, went with the "cinnamon and brown sugar French toast with fresh berries". I also ordered the "wild mushroom and leek soup with goat cheese crostini, tomatoes and chives".

The food came pretty quickly, with the only thing happening before then (that I remember) was me using the word flabbergasted and sending Bobby off into peals of laughter. The mushroom soup was really good. My only problem with it was that it could have been a touch warmer. But everything from the texture to the accessories (crostini, etc) was perfect. The omelettes were well done (I exchanged mine with Bobby since he preferred underdone eggs, and his was more cooked than mine) and stuffed with vegetables. The home fires and the asparagus that came with the omelette were pretty decent. Morgane's french toast came in a ginormous[5] bowl, which seemed to exemplify the restaurant in my mind. Every time I think of it, I'll see this huge bowl of french toast. Apparently, the french toast was wonderful (Morgane's opinion). So the food gets a positive rating form all concerned.

We devoured our food like a pack of rabid hyenas, since we were all starving and asked for our damages. Along with those, we also got comment cards and so we (with the exception of Bobby "Filling out comment cards is too plebeian for me" Bhattacharjee) filled them out. I mean, here's someone actually asking for my opinion -- how could I refuse?

Act II, Scene III: The Sun Sets

Well, the sun didn't actually set any time soon, but after a brief stint at Second Story Books. I, unfortunately, had other commitments. And so ended a pretty nice brunch. Yes, it was still raining, and for once seemed appropriate.

Ratings

Service Acceptable and yet Somber
Decor Bright, Colorful and Eye-Catching
Food Healthy Standard Fare with spots of brilliance.

Footnotes

  1. It's in the nature of a scientific experiment -- all exotic outings from now on will have accompanying pictures. Then I run a poll to see if having pictures makes people stay at the review longer. If there is a statistically significant difference then I'll call it a success and move on.
  2. In general, my memories have more to do with holistic impressions rather than reality. That way, I figure I'm getting the essence of what the object/place/encounter was about.
  3. They are taking a photography class, and as with all things Bob, have decided to drown in the ocean that is amateur photography. This makes their idea of photographs distinct from mine. Whereas I go for the snapshot moments not caring a whit about framing, color, light or depth as long as the subject shows up well enough to be recognized, they go for all those parameters plus a few more that I couldn't name if I wanted to. I guess the best way to summarize would be that I take pictures, they take photographs. I like their stuff, and they do seem to be getting better, but I definitely miss all the nuances of their photographs, what with me being a barbarian illiterate.
  4. Her cat got into a fight with her window curtains 'cause she was having a bad hair day (the cat, not Morgane). The curtain, now really mad, billowed up, tore itself off the rod and fell on Morgane, who not being able to see anything stepped on her cat. The cat, startled, teleported itself (you do know cats are much more scientifically advanced than us mere humans, right?) into the kitchen, where it proceeded to upset the Mrs. Butterworth's Original (24 oz.) -- which Morgane had left open) all over herself. So, Morgane spent the next hour or so shampooing her cat's hair.
  5. Yes, that's a word. Go look it up in the "Viren's Smashed Up Words Dictionary". A delicious combination of gigantic and enormous.

October 14, 2001

Jaleo: It's a Small World

Susan wrote the review, with commentary from Bobby (in red) and from me (in blue)

The Setup

After drinks and nachos at Parker's and a brief stop at Second Story Books, the usual suspects (Bobby, Viren, and myself) took to wandering the streets of Bethesda in search of food. As usual, every restaurant in the area was suggested, and then promptly vetoed or had Bobby's nose turned up at it on the grounds that it was too fancy, too weird, or Levante's.This inspite of the fact that Susan and I offered to go to Bobby's favorite hobbyhorse restaurant -- some random Korean BBQ place in Rockville.

The Decision

Finally we mustered up the courage to look at the menu posted outside of Jaleo, the tapas bar, in hopes of finding out what the heck tapas means. Upon seeing the phrase "Levante style" on the menu, my eyes lit up (Literally! Kind of a surreal effect -- like Tinkerbell glowing, except it's only Susan's eyes).. We decided to go for it. The moment we entered, Viren and I knew it must be a good place because the hostess table had a bowl full of matches in little Jaleo match boxes. Despite Bobby's disapproval, we took one each. (It should be noted that both Viren and Susan have a penchant for playing with fire... at the dining table!). How rude! I don't "play" with fire -- I'm a professional when it comes to fire, and ways of creating it, thanks to the wonderful institution of boy scouts...

The Restaurant

I should add a few (and, never fear, I will keep it to a sane definiton of few) words about the decor and ambience of the restaurant. The predominant color in there seemed to be yellow -- now I'm not sure at this late date whether there was any actual yellow in there, but I'm left with that impression. Other than that, Bobby liked the wall decorations (which included this gigantic painting encased in frosted glass depicting 3 people -- about the only thing I remember about it is that it's predominant color was red). The animate scenery wasn't too shabby, especially the ones gracing our neighboring tables. Although, one of them decided that she would complete the restaurant experience for the rest of us by talking loudly on a cell phone for an extended period of time. Now, if I had happened to be one of her companions, I would have been very inclined to snatch the cell phone out of her hand, walk to the kitchen, and see what kind of tapas they could create from the innards of a Nokia cell phone.

The Food

We promptly put in our order for a chicken and shrimp paella -- they make them fresh, and hence they take about 45 minutes to prepare. They provided very salty olives, pickles, and cocktail onions to tide us over while we waited.

Since Jaleo is a tapas bar, we figured that the experience would not be complete unless we ordered one each. Viren tried to order a (fill the blank) but our waiter convinced him to get an order of red peppers with goat cheese instead two thumbs up. In my opinion, this turned out to be the best thing we ordered, and, oddly enough, was the only thing we got which looked like the mental image each one of us had about what tapas are -- stuff rolled up in bread like a burrito.

Bobby, as usual, got fried calamari. And, as usual, he convinced me to try one. Also, as usual, I hated it (nothing against the calamari -- I just prefer that my food not give me the impression that I am chewing on a dried up rubber band).

I ordered a spinach, raisin, pine nut, apple tapa. The first bite was good. But the more I ate, the saltier it got ( I'm forcing myself through herculean effort to not make remarks at his point). Meanwhile, people at the tables on either side of us ordered the same thing and added salt to it! Either mine was the anomaly, or the sweet champaigne we had to drink made it seem that much saltier.

When the paella arrived we forgot to wait the suggested 5 minutes before digging in, but I don't know that it made that much of a difference. The paella was served in style, in a large (still hot) skillet, adorned with lemons and garnishing. The rice was orangish yellow and had a pleasant smell. The rice turned out to be somewhat undercooked (on purpose?), and the chicken could use a bit more spice.

Viren and I were somewhat disappointed that the chicken was still on the bone, which prompted Bobby to remind us that America is one of few places where one can find skinless, boneless chicken breast (God Bless America!). Hence, to my surprise, I found that the shrimp was my favorite part (and I am not a terribly big fan of shrimp). Unfortunately, having filled up on nachos and tapas and salty olives beforehand, Viren and I were not too interested in the paella, leaving Bobby to do most of the work and scold us for not doing our share of the work. He even tried to bet us that he could eat the whole thing (enough for two to four people) in one sitting, but we declined to take the bet when he informed us that one sitting would last at least another 2 hours.

The Conclusion

In conclusion, I think I would have preferred Levante's, but I wouldn't mind returning to Jaleo to see the flamenco dancers and drink some sangria.

September 04, 2001

Betawi Grill: Hurts So Good

Players: Susan, Bobby, Viren, several extras in the form of young women, a maitre d' wearing a loose silk batik shirt, and a dearth of service.

Act I: Prelude

It started innocently enough, with Bobby calling up and wanting to get together for a drink in our favorite watering hole (Rock Bottom Brewery) in Bethesda. Having just returned home from that general direction, I was of course reluctant to retrace my steps, but he finally badgered me into it[1]. That resulted in the three of us -- Susan, Bobby and me, in case you were off dreaming about aliens and kidnapping, which seems to be a common theme among people who come in direct contact with my writing. Sometime I'll have to get that analyzed -- being the whole and soul of the current story.

It was a wonderful day: blue skies, birds chirping, yuppies basking in the sunlight, motorheads cruising in their riced-out cars. All in all, it had the necessary omens that indicate to the informed Washingtonian that Mother Nature, in her kindness, hath decided to grace us with a preview of fall, with a dash of summer thrown in to prevent those of us who aren't Weather Channel fans from being caught with our pants off (freezing in our shorts). And there we were, sitting outside Rock Bottom enjoying some of their wunnerful brews (we mostly favor the stout, with Susan leaning slightly towards the red). Did I say 'sitting'? What I really meant was that we were slouching, postures indicating with every nuance that, at this point in time, the world was a mere day-dream that barely impinged upon our consciousness. If say, Ford Prefect had chosen that moment to land and inform us that the Vogons were about to destroy the Earth to clear space for a hyperspace bypass[2], we would have nodded politely (rudeness takes too much effort), smiled to indicate that we had heard him, offered him a fine stout, maybe toasted him with a "Cheerio, old boy', and returned to our main pastime of watching people strut on by[3].

Act II: 12 Angry Men (or 3 indecisive people)

By and by, Bobby (him being the energetic one at this point) brings up the subject of dinner, and elects to make this an EET (Exotic, ethnic trip). Susan and I being too tired to argue, the motion was carried thru. Bobby put forth the suggestion of a Korean BBQ place up in Rockville. I immediately used up my Veto on this - it's kind of a reflex nowadays, a survival instinct that years of associating with Bobby have sharpened to a fine, razor-sharp (speaking of which: who here can explain to me the difference between razors marketed for women and those marketed for men. E.g. Gillette Mach3 and Venus3) edge. From then on the discussion degenerated into the culinary equivalent of "Around the World in 80 Days" with various different cuisines being suggested and then thrown into the discard pile like so many ideas from a writer with writer's block -- everything was good, but just not quite right. As inevitably happens with all creative people suffering from a lack of well, creativeness, we decided that we needed a muse to provide us with inspiration. I almost instantaneously found us half a dozen (Bethesda's just that kind of place), but figured that that wasn't the kind of inspiration that my fellow travellers were referring to. Oh well, it probably was for the best. Muses and me don't get along. It's not that I don't get inspired, it's just that my mind starts frolicking thru paths that my body can't or won't venture into (forget about frolicking into). It's a failing of mine, but one that's dear to my heart (well, I can't get rid of it and I certainly can't ignore it, so what the hey!). Anyway, back to the point -- the muse took the form of a stroll around the area.

Act III: The art of strolling

Now, let me venture to suggest that there is indeed an art to strolling. Strolling walks (I would apologize for the pun, but why lie unnecessarily) a fine line between sauntering and walking. Both of these imply a purpose: walking implies you have somewhere to be, while sauntering suggests that you are making a determined effort to be nowhere in particular. Strolling, the way we did it, involves a seemingly convoluted path that is easily explained by 2 words : Brownian Motion. Other than that it requires the cessation of all time-based thoughts....sorta visualize driftwood floating along a slow river. It manages to get places, but without much effort on its part. So, there we were driftwood, floating along with the tide of people, peering myopically everywhere in the fashion of tourists found in every metropolis. It's amazing how many restaurants that part of Bethesda has. Everything ranging from standardized fast food to sorta snooty restaurants serving haute cuisine (tho they were obviously not snooty enough since they would have allowed us in there with our getup, with the maitre d's frigid glare being the only sign of reluctance on their part).

We passed a bunch of possibilities: there was a whole street corner full of mediterranean and faux mediterranean restaurants. They all looked good, except for one which Bobby said he couldn't eat in for ideological reasons. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for ideological reasons, I'm even fine with ideology every now and then, and I occasionally do come up with an idea or two, but ostracizing a restaurant 'cause of it's name is dragging this concept too far. So we stroll past some more ethnic restaurants ( and no, Italian doesn't count) and also Night Dreams, which if you are going to pretend to be ignorant of, is a nice little adult lingerie and toy store (Susan having decided that she already had everything she needed from there, there was no need to make a stop at Night Dreams, much to my chagrin).

Bobby, having recovered from having his choice vetoed, put in the additional constraint that it had to be Asian cuisine. We walk around some more, with despair dogging our trail and end up across the street from this Indonesian place. It was kinda like finding the missing sock pair right when you were ready to heave the whole laundry load into the trash in frustration. You could see all three of our faces glow with a heavenly light...as we all but kneeled right in the street to offer prayer to whichever deity led us to the end of our journey. We walked across the street ostensibly to look at the menu before deciding whether to grace it with our presence. However, this was a foregone conclusion: I would have eaten dried chewy leather soles prepared in coconut curry if it meant that I would be eating soon. We wordlessly[4] agreed that this would be the EET destination du jour, all the while muttering "Betawi Grill" like a mantra over and over again like it was to be our salvation.

Act IV: Walk into my parlor said the spider to the fly

Auspicious beginnings are supposed to be omens of good fortune for the duration of that enterprise, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that the outside patio of the restaurant was quaintly decorated with 3 rickshaws. This coupled with the fact the there were people sitting in the patio that seemed to be enjoying themselves, seemed like a fairly good beginning. Feeling our hopes go up a couple of notches, we ventured into the inner sanctum, and waited like all good citizens to be seated. There we received our first setback -- no one felt like seating us -- inspite of the fact that I distinctly remembered showering twice that day, and while we weren't dressed in top hats and monocles, we did have clothes on. We waited a few minutes longer looking expectantly at every passing employee (not to worry, there seemed to be only 2 people working there). While loitering in the lobby, we had plenty of time to glance around the place. The decor at first glance seemed tasteful and minimalist (my kind of place). The tables seated four and were of a adequate size, accompanied by straight-backed chairs that were surprisingly comfortable. A covered piano stood looking extremely lonely right by the entrance -- apparently they have live entertainment periodically. Across the room, was present a pretty standard bar with a mirror-covered wall. If you were of a mind to look into the depths of the restaurant, you would be pleasantly surprised by the space and number of tables present in the interior. The whole place gave off a clean, airy, moderately friendly ambience.

This inspection of the place didn't actually occupy even a tenth of the time that we were standing, but for lack of anything else to do, I kept re-doing my inspection hoping beyond hope that I would find something new -- kinda like I open my fridge periodically hoping that the gods have seen fit to deposit manna into it to reward me for being me. Finally, a waiter took pity on us and started to clean up a table on the outside patio. Of course, the maitre d', resplendent in a silk batik shirt, happened to come by at just that time and said we couldn't sit there since it only seated 2 people, and what with us being 3, it might be a trifle tight there. We, of course, weren't in much of an arguing mood and pointed at the nearest empty table and said that that would do. We followed word with action, not actually waiting for him to acquiesce. For some reason, Mr. Silk Shirt decided to hold out my chair to seat me, instead of doing the customary and seating Susan. Weird.

Act V: Seated, but not sated

Seated. That felt good. Sub-goal #2 accomplished. In the beaten path that is the restaurant process, you would expect a waiter to walk up to us, smile (being careful to look at everyone while doing so, in order to not show any favoritism), mention delicately that while we looked to be in the prime of health, we, if he may be so bold as to mention, looked a little parched, and inquire thereafter if we would like to cure this condition by getting something to drink. There you would indeed be wrong. This restaurant felt no need to follow the herd, but instead decided that we obviously looked like people who wanted peace, quiet and solitude, and they being the customer-centric establishment that they prided themselves on being would give us just that. So, we made small talk for a little while. Remarks were flying around about Indonesia, food, the dishes that were on the menu, what we wanted to eat, fish, flying fish and even bugs (since Bobby happenned to spot one crawling around in the tablecloth). By and by, someone mentioned the lack of potables, and so we once again proceeded to mimic dogs looking for a bone. We did manage to catch the eye of our presumed waiter, who made his way to our table, all the while indicating through gesture and composure that it was his idea to come by and chat with us. He, amidst the ensuing conversation, did manage to get our drink orders (2 waters and a Sam Adams), and our appetizer and food orders.

However, there was obviously some miscommunication there, because 5 minutes later we see the bartender pour the beer, and add 2 glasses of water to it, all of it in a nice quiet pile that should immediately grab the attention of a passing waiter. In fact, I distinctly heard the beer crying out to be taken to us. But, again, with the whole "we are going to be discreet" attitude, our waiter decided that bringing the drinks to us would be a major faux pas. After trying to bore holes in our waiter thru the sheer strength of our gazes, Bobby took matters in his own hand, and decided that he would go ask the bartender for our drinks. This course of action was necessitated by the fact that he was worried about the state of his beer after it had been standing around for this long. So, he manages to get the bartender to pour him another Sam Adams, picks up a pitcher of water and pours us 2 waters, and brings them to the table. At this point, our waiter materializes and makes some sounds, which don't affect us. Meanwhile, at the bar, our originally ordered drinks are still standing there all alone in the limelight.

Now, this should have been the end of our drink troubles, except that the water tasted like it was the liquid remains of a particularly bad experiment gone wrong in the labs of Aquafina. It tasted alright while you were drinking it, with just a faint taste of wrongness about it. However, as soon as you finished, the aftertaste hit you with the speed and power of a lioness protecting her cubs, and the taste of a skunk who had just gotten mad at you. A poll taken of my fellow diners elicited several strong opinions about the taste of the water, including "leopard piss" and "I've tasted bad water before, but it was never so bad that I couldn't drink it. Or that I worried that it had contaminated all of the other glasses and dishes in the restaurant". And I still don't think we have adequately described the wrongness of the water. So, Susan wisely orders (well, more like she goes and pours herself one) a beer, while I break down later and order a coke. By this time, we must have been there for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, our dear waiter returns to say that one of the appetizers we wanted isn't available. So, we finally choose something else from the menu that seems innocuous enough. Time passes....

Act VI: Lessons in eating fish

...our appetizers arrive. Or at least one of them does. This would be the one that we had to substitute in. The appetizer looked like rolls, except that the wrap had the consistency of dead tissue that had been drowned in water for a few weeks. All of us tasted this and decided that they couldn't possibly consider this a dish of any kind. Other than the consistency of the wrapping, the shrimp meat in there could have been tofu for all the taste it had. We, in our hurry to substitute in an appetizer, had apparently forgotten the crucial phrase that began the description of our appetizer (A-3 on the menu) "Soft crepe rolls ...". So, this part of the disaster was partly our fault (tho Bobby disavows all responsibility since Susan and I made the choice). We finally manage to ask Mr. Silk what happenned to our other appetizer, and were rewarded shortly with the appearance of the dish in question (A-1). This was a dish of fried egg rolls, and actually tasted good, with a thing crisp layer of wrapping that enclosed mainly chicken. Our feelings of disappointment were temporarily assuaged by this and we sat down to wait for our main course.

When our orders were taken, Bobby had ordered a whole fried Tilapia. Susan had ordered rice noodles with chicken, and I had ordered a dish that seemed to be rice with beef and chicken (K-10 on the menu). The server brought 2 dishes out -- one was Susan's and the other one looked like it was a sampler platter and thru some obvious communication difficulties, she (the server) managed to convince us that the sampler came with the Tilapia which would be arriving shortly. So, we started consuming the items in the sampler, or at least poking around at them trying to figure out what was what. Very shortly thereafter, out waiter arrived with the Tilapia, and we found out that the supposed sampler platter was in actuality my main course. Needless to say I wasn't very thrilled. There was some beef in there that was palatable but chewy, some chicken which was dry, some sort of wafers, and a potato dumpling that had the bizarrest consistency (it was like eating regurgitated food that had be dehydrated and then rehydrated -- the damn thing just felt like it had no business being in my mouth).

But the highlight of the evening was the Tilapia. It was brought on a plate sitting upright with its beady eyes staring right at you, and its spiny dorsal fin sticking straight up in the air. The effect was heightened by the fact that the mouth was a little open and you could almost see the teeth shining inside it. Susan was very amused (Bobby says I'm using the wrong word here: bemused should be the correct one) with the little critter staring straight at her, and finally managed to arrange some lettuce over its face such that the eyes were hidden. Meanwhile having finished our food, Susan and I started watching Bobby, who was in his element now, demolish the fish. The wonderful part is that he didn't quite stop at the flesh, but ate the eyeballs (something I would rather not witness again), and then started crunching away at the cartilage skeleton. In the process of eating the eyeballs, Bobby decided that he would be remiss if he didn't share this delicacy with Susan. So, he did so, with all the nonchalance of someone offering a fellow diner an after-dinner mint. Needless to say, Susan was definitely not amused (or even bemused). Hmmm.....somehow me thinks I'll choose not to sit across from Bobby when he next orders whole fried fish. I have to admit that it was fascinating watching him absolutely destroy the fish. I've always wondered what it would be like to watch piranha destroy their prey. Now I know, and Bobby's probably faster to boot.

We decided to forego the dubious pleasures of dessert, and asked for our bill. This arrived with amazing alacrity. We paid, and there ended our stint at Betawi Grill.

Act VII: The Aftermath

While leaving, Bobby had managed to snag a flyer expounding the virtues of the Betawi Grill. Reading it was absolutely side-splittingly hilarious. Especially since it treated us to phrases like "provide you with a catering experience unlike no other" (bad grammar, but true enough) and "This offer is open to young professionals" (excuse me?). What capped the writings was that they had customer testimonials in there -- "The service was spectacular" and "More than I expected". The sad part is that both fragments are true. The service was spectacular, though not in the sense they meant and the experience was more than I expected.

What can I say? Marketing never lies.

We did salvage the evening by going to Ben and Jerry's and then stopping by this Irish pub that except for the irritating DJ from 94.7FM was pretty nice.

Ratings

Service Abysmal
Decor Understated but elegant
Food Mediocre

Footnotes

  1. Note for all you people who know me: If you want to get me to do something or go somewhere, just wheedle (and alternate that with some choice threats to mind and body). Occasionally guilt trips work, too.
  2. If you didn't recognize the scenario presented there, walk to the nearest bookstore and buy yourself a copy of each of the books in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series. Now, the discerning reader will have noticed that I made no mention of the possibility of ordering these books online. Allow me to explain: First, notwithstanding the fact that I work in the realm of software research, I'm a Luddite. Screw computers (To paraphrase a particularly intelligent simian: Computers -- the cause of, and solution to all of life's problems.) Secondly, ordering online doesn't let you indulge your yearning for immediate gratification. Finally, there's nothing better than holding a book in your hand that you really want to read, but having to (in the words of John Steven:) "wait for it" until you get home. The anticipation is excruciatingly painful.
  3. There's a whole other treatise to be written on people and their walks. If you catch me in a reminiscent mood one day, ply me with drink, and venture forth the question as to "what pray tell, Viren, is it about people and their walks", you would not return home disappointed (though, if you find me in any kind of mood and ply me with sufficient drink, you probably have other, possibly sinister motives in mind, and even then you still wouldn't return home dissappointed).
  4. Another of my endless theories on life, the universe and everything: people can communicate psychically in times of high emotion. Well, alright, so maybe that's a little far-fetched. How about the fact that the pheromones we emit in times of emotion can sub-consciously be understood by those around us to mean joy, satisfaction, etc? Hmm...don't like that either? I have a whole slew of other explanations. I'll save those for another time