Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Washington D. C. - Fantastic Food Town

Most people think of Washington, D. C. mostly as the seat of the federal government and free museums. This is true, but it also has some of the best restaurants I've ever experienced.

I spent several weeks in Washington while getting my doctor of ministry degree through Wesley Theological Seminary, which is adjacent to American University. For those who know the area, it's in the northwest part of the city, in a nice section called Tenleytown. It was very convenient to go from there to almost anywhere in the city by the Metro, a great subway system.

So here are some of my picks for the nation's capital (just for my Sasabune hosting friend, Linda Quarles) counting down to my favorite:

10. Clyde's, several locations, including Georgetown, Chevy Chase, and the Gallery Place/Chinatown area. This is a reliable American restaurant to which you would take a multi-generational crowd. Good meat and fish. The Chevy Chase location has a cool interior with model trains going around and kind of a mini-car museum downstairs. It's a safe choice if you are with traditional, non-adventurous people (it's where I would have taken my parents if they were still living...that's not to say it's bad, it's good...but not overly exciting or cutting edge...just good old American food).

9. Two Amy's Pizza, 3715 Macomb Street, NW. Two Amy's is reputed to have the best pizza in the city. I would disagree, but it is still good pizza. The best part is the crust, which is thin, Neapolitan style. The toppings are pretty good to very good. My favorite was the Calabrese: tomato, onions, anchovy, fresh mozzarella, parsley, olives. I think it is worth going to once, but I didn't it make my regular pizza place.

8. Saint's Paradise Cafeteria, Shaw District, NW. This is a good soul food place run by a large Pentecostal church. Meat and a couple of sides is what you would get. I had the fried chicken, macaroni and choose, and cornbread (they were out of collard greens the night I went, much to my disappointment). The food was good - not as good as the Loveless Cafe, but solid. Elbert Kim, one of the pastors of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego, is crazy about this place, especially on rib night, which I believe is on Thursdays.

7. 5 Guys Burgers and Fries, many locations. This is one of the better burger places you will find. Very good burgers on a good bun, accompanied by high quality fries. Lots of stuff to put on your burger.

Okay, the above are good to try, but not essential eats. Here are the places you shouldn't miss:

6. Crab - various places. Spiced blue crabs (steamed with a spice mix, often with Old Bay Seasoning, served on a butcher paper covered table) are a true delicacy in these parts, and there are many places to go and opinions about which are better. The Dancing Crab in Tenleytown was recommended to me, and I've been there a few times and thought it was pretty good...until people told me that there were much better places, and kind of looked at me with some disdain when I said I liked it (I still actually think it's fine). I thought the Bethesda Crab House was good. My all-time favorite, though, would have to be the Fairfax Crab House, mainly because it was all-you-can-eat crabs. I haven't been there in many years, and a quick check on the internet seems to indicate that it has changed ownership, but they still have all-you-can-eat crabs. Maybe Linda or others know a better place. But spiced crab is something not to be missed if you've never had them.

5. Ben's Chili Bowl, 1213 U Street. Could be the most famous greasy spoon in America. You may recall that President Obama and Vice-President Biden ate there around the time of the inauguration. The thing to get is a half-smoke: a split sausage with onions, chili, and cheese. Definitely heart-stoppingly delicious!

4. Zaytinya, Gallery Place/Chinatown. Spaniard Jose Andres is one of the world's best chefs and restaurateurs, and he has several restaurants in Washington. Zaytinya is a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant specializing in mezze, or small plates. I liked the stuffed grape leaves, the fried eggplant, marinated prawns, and lamb chops, but so many of the dishes looked good that I didn't try. Caution: this place is described as being moderately priced, but I think it creeped up on expensive. NOTE: Zaytinya's executive chef, Mike Isabella, is a contestant on Top Chef Las Vegas.

Okay...These last three are truly great restaurants and the ranking is not based on which is better tasting, but more on which I am most likely to visit the most, basically based on the price.

3. Kinkead's, Foggy Bottom. No, this isn't the restaurant chain you're thinking of - Kincaid's at Ward Warehouse and other locations. This is one of the best restaurants anywhere. It is so good that the sous chef (and not the head chef) was a contestant in the Bocuse D'Or, probably the most prestigious cooking competition in the world (she lost to the French chef). I was fortunate enough to have been treated here by my sister and brother-in-law a few years ago. I've been assured that it is still great. It was one of the most memorable meals I've ever had. Even something as simple as clam chowder was elevated into another level; a natural clam broth with country ham instead of bacon - it really demonstrated how the simplest of preparations are the best when done right. I also had a perfectly cooked and seasoned piece of fish, once again, simple but absolutely delicious. This is an expensive restaurant, but a great place for a very special occasion.

2. Jaleo, several locations. These are Jose Andres's flagship restaurants. Spanish tapas prepared unbelievably well. Yet again, my sister and brother-in-law hosted this meal for my family for my graduation. There are too many dishes to recommend, but two that you shouldn't miss are the paella (we chose the one with shrimp and cuttlefish) and the incredibly tender and flavorful braised short ribs.

1. If, however, I had to pick just one restaurant in Washington to eat at, it would be the Matchbox at Gallery Place/Chinatown. It is across the street from a Baptist church pastored by my classmate, the Rev. Dr. Amy Butler. If you need a good restaurant recommendation other than these, she has always been spot on. And the Matchbox was her best recommendation.

It is a hip casual dining place. The appetizers are terrific, things like mini-burgers (really good sliders with something called onion strings on them - excellent), shrimp and grits, and crab cakes.

The apple/pear salad is out of this world! Mesclun greens, candied pecans, gorgonzola, with a honey-balsamic vinaigrette. It is just the best.

The Matchbox is known for its pizza, and it's hands down better than Two Amy's (sorry!). Just about all of them are excellent, but two stand out for me. Fire and Smoke is not for the timid; it is very spicy: fire roasted red peppers, spanish onions, chipotle pepper tomato sauce, garlic puree, smoked gouda, fresh basil.

But my all-time favorite was off of the specials menu on one visit: arugula (rocket greens for the British readers) and prosciutto. So simple yet so good! My mouth still waters just at the thought of it!

Just thinking about the apple/pear salad and the fire and smoke pizza makes me think that if vegetarian food was all this good, I'd eschew meat forever. Then again, those braised short ribs at Jaleo are awfully good....

So there you have it...my take on my favorite places in our nation's capital. I'd love to hear from the D. C. residents to know what they think and what other recommendations they would make.

Grace and aloha,


P. S. Great discussion on science and religion from the last post! One of the things that intrigues me about those who dismiss God on scientific grounds: they will often argue that given time, one could eventually have a complex universe based on pure chance and not on an intelligent God (unlike Cara's observation).

Well, I guess it's theoretically possible that a sandstorm somewhere whipped up and swept through an iron mine that was on top of an oil deposit and there was am earthquake and suddenly a fully equipped turbo charged Volvo appeared in the sand.

The question is, which is more likely to happen: an intelligent God who creates a world in which people eventually build a Volvo? Or random occurrences that result in a Volvo?

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