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January 22, 2009

D.C. Food Blogging

I've been in DC for a little over two weeks and I've been exploring some of the restaurants in my neighborhood.

Great Wall Szechuan, 1527 14th St NW (at Church St.)

Ezra really likes Great Wall Szechuan, but I was disappointed.

I ordered off the special numbingly hot menu, as directed. I ordered the mapo tofu without meat and the spicy cold noodle appetizer. The sheer amount of Sichuan peppercorn and chili oil they were willing to put in these dishes commanded my respect. Great Wall doesn't pander. Unfortunately, I didn't really enjoy the food that much because the flavors were unbalanced. Good mapo tofu is supposed to have a certain amount of tang and a slight sweetness to offset the chili, but this tofu was just soft and white and greasy with a few wilted green onions floating on top. The sauce should coat the tofu. This bean curd was just sitting in the oil, quivering.

The tofu came with a brick-like carton of steamed rice.

I knew I wasn't going to like the second dish as soon as I saw that the noodles were industrial yellow. The noodles were slightly thinner than udon with a slight wave to them, as I expected they were pretty tasteless. They were dressed with ample bright red oil, Sichuan pepper, red pepper flakes, black vinegar, and very fresh beansprouts. There might have been soy in there too. There was some overwhelmingly salty ingredient, but I couldn't determine what, and so many chili flakes that the noodles were unappealingly gritty.

On the upside the "appetizer" portion of the noodles was entree-sized and the tofu portion was equally generous. So, it was enough for three or four meals for 15 bucks, and they delivered promptly.

I'd give this place another chance.

Oohhs and Ahhs Soul Food, 1005 U St NW (At 10th St. NW)

Not the cleanest restaurant in the world and the atmosphere is kind of dismal, but the food is delicious. Actually, Oohhs and Aahhs is more of a lunch counter or a takeout joint than a restaurant, though there is seating upstairs. They automatically pack the components of your meal into separate styro-foam containers. I had a really good boneless fried chicken breast served with two sides. I chose the baked macaroni and cheese. The noodles were soft and buttery with a mildly tangy curds of cheddar cheese. The pureed yams were bright orange, heavily spiced, and too sweet even for dessert. I couldn't eat them. Sixteen dollars is on the pricey side for that kind of fare, but the portions are generous enough to feed two adults and the individual containers make it convenient to take the food home to share.

The food was good, but the service was unfriendly and the guy screwed up my order and tried to tell me I hadn't ordered it properly. I probably wouldn't go back.

Marvin, 2007 14th St NW (At U St. NW)

I went for brunch at this Belgian/Soul Food restaurant and left feeling wistful and ripped off. According to the menu in the window, they were about eight dollars on the brunch menu. When I sat down, they showed me a different menu where the grits were about five dollars more expensive. I was already committed to this venture, so I chose to order them anyway.

I have to say, they were hands down the best shrimp and grits I've ever eaten, or probably ever will eat. There were about five small, sweet seared shrimp with their tails on arranged on top of a little mound of dense coarsely ground white cheese grits. That was it, though. No garnish, no sides, no juice, no coffee, no nothing. Maybe it's a New York thing, but I'm used to brunch being a package deal. I'm not a big eater, but I left Marvin feeling hungry.

If I could afford to, I would go back, but that's not happening unless I quit my job and become a lobbyist.

Dahlak, 1771 U St NW (Btwn Florida Ave & 17th St NW)

This Eritrean restaurant was a great find. I ordered the hamili dinish, which is a dry spinach and potato and carrot stew. It's served on a metal platter on top of big flat injera bread. Injera like a giant spongy blini. You tear off pieces of the bread to scoop up the veggies, and the delicious little side salad. The side salad was shredded romaine, fresh tomato cubes, red onions, and fresh jalepenos. The dressing tasted like bottled Italian, but for whatever reason, bottled Italian dressing goes amazingly well with jalepeno. All this, and a second tortilla-sized injera on the side for $7.85. I left with enough leftovers for at least one more meal.

I will definitely go back.


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Crap, if I'd known you were going to be here so long, I would have a) pointed you in the right direction food-wise and b) tried to arrange some face-time.

As for a) Ben's Chili Bowl (U St), Sticky Rice (H St NE) Doc Granville More's (H St NE), escecially the brunch, but always good veg/vegan at Asylum (18th NW), Mama Ayesha (Calvert NW), 1000 different beers @ Brickskeller (DuPont), further afield Bahn Mi at DC Sandwich in Falls Church VA. I invite other locals to discuss.

If you are expecting to find good Chinese by the standards of New York City in DC, you will always be disappointed, the best you can expect is slightly better than mediocre by NY standards.

In Baltimore, the best KOSHER Chinese I’ve come across, David Chu’s China Bistro is worth a try, and I’ve liked the Japanese and Ethiopian in DC.

lindsey, you simply must do some spadework on pittsburgh's food scene prior to netroots.

this is a great, and useful review. you zero in on the things that matter to a dining experience. brava!

"I went for brunch at this Belgian/Soul Food restaurant and left feeling wistful and ripped off."

i've had the exact same feeling leaving a restaurant where great food was overshadowed by things like pricing and decor, or even staff attitude.

The Eritrean place you named used to be called Harambe when I lived in the 'hood. It was a big hangout place for both Ethiopian and Eritrean cab drivers, which indicated its authenticity to me.

Go to DC for Ethiopian, but not Chinese.

There is a recent No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain set in DC. Given your remarks, you might enjoy some of the places he went.

Absolutely try Dukem on U St, my favorite Ethiopian place in the whole wide world (and I have eaten Ethiopian food in Toronto, Ottawa, New York, and elsewhere in DC---all of which have decent Ethiopian food but nothing comparable to Dukem). Order the Awaze Tibbs, spicy, or the Dukem Special Tibbs. If you're in the mood for grilled beef on the bone, the Awaze Tibbs. This is assuming you're not a vegetarian, of course.

Also try Spices in Cleveland Park. It's another DC favorite of mine.

Oh, and my favorite for Chinese is Chinatown Garden by the Chinese gate thing at Gallery Place. YMMV. There is decent Chinese in DC but as mentioned above, unlikely to match NYC. Neither city impresses me for Indian food.

And there is a distinct lack of poutine which puts this Canuck off every US city, practically. I don't understand why the USA has such an extreme dearth of this objectively delicious food.

I would suggest RFD on 7th a block up from the Gallery Place Metro as an alternative to Brickskeller; they are owned by the same investors but RFD is easier to access.

As for Chinese, the best I have found in Washington is, surprisingly, in a food court. Meiwah Express at the National Place food court is not worth a special trip but it's the best Chinese 3-item combo I have found, and quite cheap by DC prices. Worth it if you are within 6 blocks of Metro Center. The best Chinese in the Baltimore-Washington area might be in the Baltimore suburbs, unexpectedly, since Baltimore is a pretty weak dining town and the suburbs are the suburbs. But Sonny Lee's Hunan Taste in the NW Baltimore suburb of Reisterstown keeps winning awards and packing the house. Not cheap by Baltimore standards, but excellent. Not worth a drive from DC but maybe worth a 15 mile ride if you are in the Baltimore area.

Recommend any Lebanese Taverna or Moby Dick's for kebab of different styles (the latter Persian in style.)

I think MSG is poisonous, my aunt gets terrible migraines from the stuff.

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