Restaurants in 2009 – The Promising (Part 3 of 3)

I have gone through the improving restaurants and the declining restaurants.  The only ones left are the ones that  are new or my new favorites this year…

Notable or New:

Blue Duck Tavern: This year, this has almost been our go-to restaurant.  We have celebrated everything here from a graduation to our engagement.  That speaks to the trust we have in Chef Brian McBride. Every time we’ve been there the food has been consistently excellent.  I highly recommend the roast chicken, duck fat fries or the braised beef rib.

American Flatbread: This one actually falls  into the ‘new’ category.  American Flatbread is a small chain, but just opened up a hearth in Clarendon in our building.  So far the pizza has been good, though a bit on the pricey side.  The good news is the managers are very nice, and it’s close.  My suggestion, have a “$5 off pizza night” to lighten the sting of a $20-$22 pizza.

Cork: Easily my favorite winebar out of the bunch that I’ve been to.  Reasonable prices, good wine, and great food combine for a fun night out.  I highly recommend getting a cheese plate, the olives, pork loin and mushrooms.  If you’re okay waiting a bit and dining in a more noisy than usual dining room, then you won’t be disappointed.

Others: I haven’t tried these places out yet but here’s more that I’m looking forward to:

That’s it!  Thanks for reading and hopefully sharing what restaurants you’ve found to be getting better, getting worse, or always stayed awesome.

Restaurants in 2009 – The Bad (Part 2 of 3)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series.  Read the first post here about restaurants on rebound

We now have come to the most disappointing part of this series…restaurants that I once enjoyed, but in the past year – seemed to have lost their magic.  All of these restaurants I have eaten at more than 8-10 times each, so I feel as if I know if something has changed for the worse.

On the way down:

Tallula/Eat Bar: This used to be one of my favorite places to eat in years past.  Every time I’ve been there this year, Tallula has been empty, and EatBar was thriving.  Before last week, the last time I went to EatBar about 6-8 months ago.  It may have been an outlier experience, but this time the food wasn’t that good.  The mini-burgers tasted more like dried sausage and the steak tartare lacked character.  It was decent, but if I want to eat a good mini-burger, I’ll just go to Matchbox.

11th Street: Another watering hole that I used to frequent.  Sometime last year they changed the menu and removed almost everything that we went there for, and haven’t recovered since.  After talking to the manager, a few items have made a return, but somehow they’re not as good as they used to be.  For example, you can’t get just sweet potato fries anymore – they come with regular fries interspersed now.  Other items missing from the menu – mini steak frites.  Please, bring them back!

Liberty Tavern – I don’t know what’s going on with this place, but the last two times I have gone there have been some…umm….interesting odors.  The first time was a distinct vomit smell, and the second time (over a week later) was the overwhelming smell of bleach.  I actually do like the food.  Their Vermont Pizza is one of my favorites, but it’s hard for me to imagine eating it with so much going on in the air.

Any restaurants that have taken a turn for the worse?

Next up is the last of three posts about the new restaurants that I’m excited for as well as some restaurants that I’ve come to love over the past year…

Restaurants in 2009 – The Good (Part 1 of 3)

I eat out a good amount.  Some weeks, more than I should.  I do get a little upset when I don’t feel like I’ve gotten a good value for my money and with so many great restaurants in the DC area, why should I be okay with eating a bad meal?  This past year I have been mentally compiling notes on restaurants that I frequent; which ones are improving, which ones are on the decline, which ones are new that I’m excited about and which have become staples in my dining life.  I have boiled it down to a short list…so read on!

On the way up:

Restaurant 3: I admit I had written off this place earlier this year.  The first time, all the food was smokey tasting, the second time, the food was just not good.  What has changed?  Since January, they have changed and expanded their menu to include a lot less expensive items on the menu.  The fried green tomatoes, scallops and grits, and burger were all hits with me.  I’m glad that they seemed to address the issues with the menu.  Combine that with a decent happy hour (goes til 8pm!) I’ll be going more often.

Spider Kelly’s – I have only gotten drinks here previously, but tonight I tried their Spider Kelly’s burger (with pork fat!), black bean burger, wings and ‘cardiac’ macaroni and cheese.  Not bad!  I agree with Tom Seitsema about the Spider Kelly’s burger having a funny taste to it, but overall I’ve heard decent things about their food, and I’m happy to say that I think it makes it into my rotation.  With the decline of Liberty Tavern (more on that in a later post) – Spider Kelly’s sneaks back onto my radar.

What do you think?  Have you found a restaurant that has made a rebound this year?  Let me know in the comments.

Next up – restaurants that are on the decline…

Review: Restaurant 3

The growth of new restaurants in the N. Arlington area has somewhat slowed down as builders continue to put up new condos and apartments. Welcome Restaurant 3 to the Clarendon night scene. Restaurant 3 is the latest creation of involving the owner of one of my favorite burger and beer spots – Whitlow’s. It occupies the lot that, thankfully now defunct neon-green eyesore Mama Quan’s used to claim. The old building was knocked down, and a new, very nice looking structure was put in its place about a month and a half ago.

I finally got around to meeting with some friends for dinner there, and so far it got off on the wrong foot…At first sight, the place looks very nice, the menu a little sparse, but all the essentials were represented (beef, chicken, vegetarian, duck, etc.). We sat in the bar dining area, which turned out to be very loud, but bearable. Average entree price ranged from $14-$28, pretty standard. I started with the grilled Brie platter for the table, and noticed a very strong charcoal taste. It wasn’t bad, but turned out to be a theme with everyone’s dinner later…

It turns out that I’ve become a huge fan of pork chops. It’s such a simple thing to order at restaurants, but when you get a pork chop done right, it’s amazing. (yeah, I said it – amazing.) I ordered it medium as usual, and it came with a side of mashed potatoes, and diced apples. Here starts the bad news, the chops were dry. Nowhere near medium, and also had the strong charcoal taste. Two strikes. It wasn’t just me, the fillet mignon that was ordered was cooked correctly, but had the same overpowering smoky taste. Not good.

I’ll have to give it a “just ok” and temporarily withhold judgment as it’s less than two months old and they still have some kinks to work out, but in the highly competitive N. Arlington restaurant business, you don’t have that long to get things working right. Some suggestions: clean the excess residue off your grill, check the temperature of your meat before you serve it, and put in some noise muffling in the bar area somehow and you’ll be ahead of the game. Until then, for those in the Arlington area, I’d recommend another favorite of mine, Tallula. It has similar prices, superior pork chops and better ambiance. If you’ve been to Restaurant 3 and disagree, let me know what you thought!

Website: Restaurant Three

Update 01.05.09: I’ve been here 2-3 times now, and still haven’t been impressed.  I plan on only going here for drinks and not much else.  For another excellent restaurant in the same family as Tallula, check out Evening Star Cafe in Del Ray/Alexandria – haven’t had a bad dish there yet.

Birthday Weekend

This weekend was a busy one with both my Mom and Amanda’s birthdays to celebrate.
For my Mom’s birthday we met at Bangkok 54 in South Arlington. I’ve heard good things about it, and passed it many times on the way to the Arlington Cinema n’ Drafthouse but never eaten there. The food was good, above average for some of the Thai places that I’ve eaten. On the other hand, I can confirm the common complaint that the restaurant is on the noisy side, and it wouldn’t hurt to investigate some noise dampening.

Amanda’s birthday celebration spanned two weekends. If you haven’t checked out my Flickr photostream, pictures from last weekend’s limo excursion out to the Leesburg wineries is up here. Last night we celebrated again with more friends in DC at one of our favorite places, Matchbox. Of course we got our favorite sliders with addictive onion strings, washed it down with a few De Koninck beers, and followed it up with a few more at Buffalo Billiards in Dupont. Busy weekend, but ready for this week to get started.

Bangalore: Day 5

Drinking with our DriverIt’s been five days here in Bangalore, India and I think I’m starting to get in the swing of things. Getting to work each day has been an adventure with the traffic patterns being much different than back in the US. Driving a vehicle on the streets of Bangalore is much like walking in a crowd. There are lines on the streets, but it means nothing. Cars, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians pass each other inches apart. At first I thought it was much like China, but now that I’ve commuted for five days – I realize that it’s much more chaotic. Thankfully, Chris and I have a driver that comes to pick us up from our hotel each morning at 9am and we get to work at Ecospace Campus (which is 3-4 miles away) in about 45 minutes. He also takes us back to the hotel, or to a restaurant or shopping if we want to.

I’ve never been on a business trip, but I think I like it. Other than missing the comforts of my home, friends and family – I get to experience a country for free. I’ve eaten at very interesting restaurants (Bombay Post, BBQ Nation), drank Kingfisher beer, witness a wedding, play a Sitar, and meet my Indian AOL colleagues. It took much less time to adjust to being in India than I thought. Possibly because Bangalore is a city of technology. If you’re company isn’t represented here already, you’re already late to the game.

This weekend marks the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, or Ganesh Festival, celebrating the birthday of Hindu God Ganesh, which lasts for an odd number of days (usually 1 to 11). Walking around yesterday, there were statues of Ganesh prepared to be displayed this weekend. We still haven’t hit tourist market central, MG Road, but definitely plan on hitting that this weekend.

I have 3.5 days left. Unfortunately we won’t get to travel up to Agra to see the Taj Mahal but there is so much more to see here in Bangalore. Other than that, the training sessions that Chris and I are conducting have been very productive and well received. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of all this city has to offer.

As always, keep checking out the constantly updated set on Flickr: India Trip.

August is a Busy Month

Oy, I got back from the beach a few days ago, but I’ve been so darn busy catching up that I haven’t had a chance to post anything. As many of you knew, last week I turned another year older and I pretty much stretched out birthday celebrations over a week. Last Saturday, I celebrated my birthday with two friends that also have August birthdays and some of our closest friends. We pre-gamed pretty hard, and then finished up at the Clarendon Ballroom. The next day, I held myself together long enough to celebrate my Grandma’s 89th birthday. She’s in good health, and can still cook up a storm.

On my actual birthday we headed over to Sette Bello in Clarendon for some Italian. I’ve eaten there a few times before, but this was the worst service they’ve ever provided. We couldn’t get a decent table (we first got seated at a picnic-like table but then settled for a four top, when there were five of us) and orders were mis-heard thanks to a waiter that liked to stay at least 7 feet away from whoever was ordering. The food was good, but service has to get better for it to be a complete package.

Finally, the weekend after my birthday, I took my annual trip to Ocean City with Amanda, Nick and Amy. We indulged all weekend, but unfortunately snapping pictures escaped my mind. The only thing that I got a picture of was the table buzzer in the shape of a lobster we got at Sunset Grille. I’ll be back in OC in a couple weeks to chill out again before starting school back up. Summer, once again, was too short.

Check out all the pictures from last week in my Birthday Weekend 2007 Set on Flickr.