Grill Kabob

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Grill Kabob is a fast casual Afghan kabob restaurant with two Downtown DC locations, one at 1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW and one at 1025 Vermont Avenue NW, as well as a few 16683369_10155026705173011_1753156522_n.jpgadditional locations throughout the DMV area. Grill Kabob is similar to Moby Dick House of Kabob, though Moby Dick is Persian and has a larger menu. Grill Kabob does a solid lamb kabob with rice, yogurt sauce, chutney and a side salad. My Afghan friend who ate there with me enjoyed it. However, the place lacks atmosphere and variety on the menu. If you’re just looking for a good kabob, though, this place does that well (as it should with a name like “Grill Kabob.”

Char Bar

Rating: ★★★★☆

13933418_10154441684318011_371164314_nChar Bar is DC’s only full-service Kosher restaurant, located at 2142 L St NW. Since my best friend is Orthodox, I often find myself at Kosher restaurants, typically in New York City. Sadly, many Kosher restaurants are pretty mediocre, since they have a niche market with little competition. Since Char Bar has a captive audience among Kosher diners in DC, it could easily get away with being marginal. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I ordered a pastrami sandwich, which was large juicy and flavorful- exactly how a pastrami sandwich should be. It was served with a large helping of potato chips, which were probably Terra and out of a bag, but 13940926_10154441684313011_517584761_nthe excellence of the pastrami made me overlook that. The one drawback was the price. I know kosher meat costs more, but $17 for my sandwich was definitely pretty pricey. If you’re looking for pastrami, there are cheaper places to get it, like Loeb’s NY Deli. That said, Char Bar’s is very good.

SKWR Kabobline

Rating: ★★★★☆

imageSKWR Kabobline is a fast casual Middle Eastern restaurant located at 1400 K St. NW. At first glance it appears similar to Cava and Rotibut SKWR Kabobline’s center of gravity is farther east, since many of the ingredients have more of a Persian flavor, such as the Salad Olivieh topping and the Lavash Crisp topping. imageWhile I’m generally not a huge fan of places like this that throw a bunch of ingredients into a bowl or onto a plate, the ingredients that they use are fresh, flavorful and delicious. Overall, I like SKWR Kabobline better than its competitors.

Mayur Kabab House

Rating: ★★

13295408_10154237232343011_100544815_nMayur Kabab House is a Pakistani restaurant located at 1108 K St NW. It provides a welcome alternative to the food trucks and to the endless chain offerings downtown like Cosi. They offer a lunch buffet with typical staples such as pakawra, saag, and chicken tikka. The chicken tikka was tasty, especially given that it was from a buffet and the pakawra was wonderfully fried and satisfying. My Afghan co-worker, who grew up largely in Pakistan, was disappointed that they didn’t offer separate containers for the dessert at the buffet. That aside, the buffet, which can be had to go, is a reliably tasty, quick and filling work lunch.

Five Guys

Rating: 

12952785_10154103948773011_910181536_oFive Guys may be a large burger chain now with over 1,000 locations, but they got their start right here in Arlington. Five Guys continues to have a heavy presence throughout the DMV area with several locations in the District, in addition to locations at Reagan National Airport and in Arlington, Hyattsville, Kensington, Bethesda, Fairfax, Potomac, Alexandria, McLean, and Annandale.  While the “better burger” market has become saturated in recent years by new offerings like Smashburger and Shake Shack, 12941142_10154103948738011_1729560251_oFive Guys  was the first of the “better burger” chains I tried and I still think it’s one of the best. For starters, the burger (despite the fact that you can’t order it less than well-done) is always flavorful and juicy (some people might say it’s greasy, but I find it delicious). And there’s a large selection of toppings- I always get a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, pickles and ketchup. The fries are tasty (if you like them with the skins left on) and I love that they serve free peanuts while you wait. The wait is usually pretty brief (rarely as long as at Shake Shack. Be aware that Five Guys doesn’t do much other than burgers and fries; they do have hot dogs (I’ve never tried one) but you can’t get a veggie burger. They’ll make you a sandwich of veggies on a bun, but that doesn’t sound too appetizing. Since I love burgers and I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t really care. Some Five Guys serve breakfast, which is basic, but tasty. You can get a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich or add a burger patty to that for an extra charge (and extra calories). They do have coffee but it’s pretty meh (what did you expect?).

Sweetgreen

Rating:

Sweetgreen is a fast casual salad restaurant chain that began in the DC area in 2007. It has various locations throughout DC and the suburbs, including in Foggy Bottom, Downtown, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, Crystal City, Ballston, College Park, Silver Spring, McLean, Tysons, Fairfax and Reston. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not often eat salads because I almost never feel full after eating them. The salads at Sweetgreen are no exception in this regard, but they are very tasty and innovative. I can totally see the appeal of this place for those who do like salads, so I am rating it based on that. I ordered a seasonal specialty called the Umami Grain Bowl, which was healthy and delicious (though I was of course still hungry after). There are numerous other inventive salad choices, such as the “Rad Thai,” which is a Thai-inspired salad with shrimp. For those counting calories, however, be warned that some of the salads are highly caloric- the winner in this regard is the “Earth Bowl,” which packs a whopping 775 calories (as a comparison, a Big Mac contains 563 calories). Of course, there’s a lot more to healthy eating than calories, and there is certainly far more nutrition in Sweetgreen’s food than in Mc Donalds’Sweetgreen also has delicious house made fountain drinks and everything (aside from the reusable bowl) is compostable. Sweetgreen gets major points for offering nutritious, environmentally conscious food in a casual, bright atmosphere. It just isn’t a filling enough meal for me

Bobby’s Burger Palace

Rating: 

12874448_10154073072198011_1017828677_oBobby’s Burger Palace is a relatively small chain with a DC location at 2121 K St NW, as well as additional locations in Bethesda and College Park. Bobby’s Burger Palace benefits from the immediate name recognition of its owner, celebrity chef Bobby Flay, a largerr-than-life personality on the Food Network. I had previously eaten at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas, which serves up delicious, sophisticated, and pricey Southwestern fare. I loved it, so Bobby’s Burger

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“The New Mexico”

Palace was on my list to try. Bobby’s Burger Palace falls into the “Better Burger” genre alongside the likes of Five Guys and Shake Shack. However, there are some differences that make it somewhere in-between a fast food place and a sit-down restaurant. First, you order when you enter but then take a number to place on your table so that a food runner can bring the food to you. Second (and most important) is that the bugers are cooked to order; unlike like Five Guys, where you just choose toppings (though I love Five Guys), at Bobby’s Burger Palace, you can actually choose how you want the meat cooked. I ordered the “New Mexico,” which comes topped with green chilis, queso and 12915218_10154073072263011_414750173_opicked red onions. I appreciate that Bobby Flay brings some of his Southwestern flare into his burger joint; the burger itself was very tasty and had a nice kick to it, though it didn’t blow me away. The fries were good too, but the fry sauce wasn’t thick enough for proper dipping, as far as I’m concerned. Any burger can be “crunchified” by adding potato chips to it for free. In the future, I want to try their shakes (they have a cool list of flavors and you can order your shake spiked with a shot of alcohol. I also need to try their cactus pear margarita, since I had something similar at Mesa Grill and loved it. If you’re not a meat eater and insist on 12914922_10154073072173011_626418075_oordering a salad at a burger place, Bobby’s Burger Palace has you covered with salads that sound legitimately good. The interior is sleek and cool-looking and the staff are very friendly. This is a solid spot if you’re craving a good burger, and the menu offers far more inventive choices than the standard options at Five Guys and Shake Shack. It’s also nice to be able to order your burger the way you want it cooked. That said, I’m not going to crave Bobby’s Burger Palace over Shake Shack or Five Guys going forward; all three satisfy my craving for a fattening, delicious burger that’s more than a cut above a Big Mac or a Whopper.

 

Bourbon Coffee

Rating: 

12873628_10154051447308011_848338628_oBourbon Coffee has multiple locations in DC, including at 2101 L St NW (Downtown), 4200 Wisconsin Ave NW (Tenleytown) and 621 Pennsylvania Ave SE (Capitol Hill). The pictures in this review are from the Tenleytown location, but I have also been to their Downtown location. Bourbon Coffee also has a location in Cambridge, MA, but actually started in Rwanda. They serve Rwandan single-origin coffees directly from Rwandan farmers and cooperatives. The Tenleytown location is inside 12874085_10154051447283011_1871285890_oa soulless, concrete building, but the interior is warm and inviting, decorated with Rwandan crafts. It was surprisingly easy to get a seat there on the weekends. The WiFi is good and the coffee is excellent. The Downtown location tends to be crowded, but I seriously appreciate a coffee shop with personality downtown, which is a rare find in a sea of Starbucks and wannabe Starbucks like the very disappointing Greenberry’s Coffee & Tea.

Vidalia

Rating: 

 

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Having my Mint Julep like Senator Lindsey Graham

Vidalia is a fancy Southern restaurant located at 1990 M St NW. I first went to Vidalia on a great date over the summer, just for dessert and drinks since I typically can’t afford their (very pricey) food. I had their pecan pie and a mint julep and had wanted to go back ever since. I finally got the chance after Santa Claus gave me a gift card for Christmas, plus an Israeli friend was in town and I wanted to take her for something very American and special. Against my better judgement (given the $78 per person price tag) my Israeli friend convinced me to order the tasting menu, which I don’t regret at all. Simply put, it was one of the best meals I’ve had in months; it was six courses including two appetizers, two entrees, a cheese course and a dessert. But since I had a friend with me, we each ordered different things, so we each sampled 1o dishes, plus the cheese course and other accoutrements.

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An amuse-bouche for you, monsieur.

It is worth noting what Vidalia is and what it is not. Vidalia serves food inspired by the cuisine of the Southern US, but made with French culinary training. As such, it has the feel of a fancy French restaurant, complete with great service by very professional, older waiters and an older, well-dressed crowd. It is not a hip, buzzy place like Compass Rose, which is why some reviewers complain that the food isn’t innovative and that the decor is tired. The decor is very tasteful and the food is classic haute cuisine with a Southern twist; not all fantastic meals have to be about reinventing the wheel and appealing to the 20s and 30s set.

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The breads were awesome.

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The foie gras.

Like any fancy restaurant, the meal began with a delicious amuse-bouche and a great selection of artisan breads. For the first course, we ordered the seared Hudson Valley foie gras with a winter squash financier, pepitas, vadouvan, and buttermilk. The foie gras was totally on point and delicious and paired very nicely with the financier. We also had the heirloom beet salad with roasted beets, puffed farro, bleu cheese, and braised pear.

 

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The heirloom beet salad.

 

 

For the second appetizer course, we ordered the sweetbread & waffle, as well as the jumbo lump crab cake. The sweetbread & waffle (made with chicken fried veal sweetbread, lemon, baby bok choy, caper, and bacon fondue with a waffle) was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the entire meal. It was everything I love about chicken and waffles but the veal sweetbread melts in your mouth, almost like a fried oyster. The crab cake was excellent as well.

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The sweetbread and waffle was a star.

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The crab cake.

For the third course (fish entrees) we ordered the Point Judith baby monkfish with butter poached lobster, fennel, green olive, cucumber, lemon-celery root purée and the shrimp and grits with bacon, okra,  scallion, beech mushroom, and spicy shrimp butter. Both were delicious and the shrimp and grits was an excellent, upscale take on this classic southern dish.

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The monkfish.

 

 

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The shrimp and grits.

The fourth course was the meat entrees course. We ordered the quail with berbere spice, Carolina gold rice grits, baked, yellow split peas, and bacon jus, as well as the rabbit with bacon-wrapped rabbit loin with crépinette, hay smoked carrots, wild mushrooms, and foie gras-chestnut purée. Both were cooked perfectly. The bacon-wrapped rabbit loin was especially flavorful and extremely tender.

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The rabbit.

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The quail.

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The cheese course.

The cheese course was great too, as were our desserts: the pecan pie (as I ordered on my date) and the key lime pie. The desserts were complemented by a delicious selection of mini sweets on the house.

 

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The pecan pie.

 

I highly recommend Vidalia, and it is the kind of place that’s worthy of a very special occasion.

 

Loeb’s NY Deli

Rating:

12834822_10154013677828011_1597901887_nLoeb’s NY Deli is located at 1712 I St NW. As a Long Islander who often describes himself as Episcopalian by religion but deeply influenced by Jewish culture, I have exacting standards for the New York Jewish classics like pastrami, knishes, matzoh ball soup, bagels with lox and shmear, etc. Given the bold claim to be a New York deli and the tacky Statue of Liberty logo, I was skeptical of Loeb’s when I first walked in. But my hot pastrami sandwich on rye was everything it was supposed to be and did not disappoint. It was thick, warm 12825258_10154013677768011_1917933590_nand flavorful. I also ordered a knish which was pretty decent. I was pretty impressed with the menu as a whole; they had an extensive list of sandwiches that all sounded great, matzoh ball soup, chopped liver, latkes and even a dessert kugel (obviously there are a lot more items that I need to try there). I was a bit surprised to not see any ruggalah or black and white cookies, but I can go to Baked by Yael for those anyway. All in all a solid spot for lunch downtown, especially if you crave food from the tribe. B’tayavon!

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