October 29, 2007

It's just not Monday without Cafe Deluxe

So I returned for the 3rd Monday in a row to Cafe Deluxe in Tysons Corner for dinner. It seemed a little noisier than usual, but I have to admit, I like the kind of fun and crowded atmosphere in there. We were greeted by the hostess and shown to a table (a 2-top) on the edge of the bar and the walkway between tables - aka out in the open - and when we asked to have a table that was a little more set away, she brought us to the back to a 4-top where if we sat "on the inside" - that's my quote, not anyone else's - we weren't going to have our backs being constantly brushed by passing waiters, so we agreed and sat down.

My co-diner ordered the goat cheese, teardrop tomato, pine nut and mixed green salad for an appetizer. I just ate the yummy bread and butter. For an entree, my co-diner got the plate of 4 sides: chosen were Gruyere mac and cheese, potatoes au gratin, asparagus, and sauteed spinach. All in all a very bland meal. The mac and cheese was a huge disappointment and there was just so much of it that it became almost unappetizing. I like the potatoes but the other diner said they were a little too salty, perhaps due to the accompanying cheese. The spinach was pretty tasteless, and the asparagus was quite good. Just a note that a $4 side of asparagus gets you 3 stalks. That's $1.33 per stalk, assuming that the individual side order of asparagus is the same as the portion that's given in the 4-side plate. I'm not sure.

I ordered the Salmon Nicoise Salad, again, and it was good. I always think that the piece of salmon looks so small when it arrives, but then I always have a hard time finishing it. The greens were really delicious and fresh, and I like the vinaigrette. Once again, the green beans were just not cooked enough. Another minute or two in the boiling water or steamer and they would have actually had a taste.

The waitress, after clearing our plates, asked if we wanted dessert. I asked about the cobbler of the day - always a big curiosity for me - and it was Blackberry. Yum! I then asked if the berries were fresh or frozen, and she said, "I think they're freshly frozen, but I'll double check." "That would be great," I replied. And then a minute later she brought the check, with no further mention of blackberries, cobbler or anything else. Blame it on my soft voice, the noisy restaurant, the waitress' bad hearing or bad short-term memory... Either way, we decided we didn't need cobbler or coffee, and so we paid the check as it was, and skipped the cobbler.

Always a fun place to go, but skip the Plate of 4 Sides... unless you have no taste buds and don't care.

October 20, 2007

Brasserie Beck (and a note about TJ's)

Last night I had dinner at Brasserie Beck, one of the "hot" new places in DC. It opened in late April 2007, and has been doing very well. We arrived around 10pm I think, and there was an hour and a half wait for a table for 2! We got a drink at the bar - delicious cosmo - and then about 10 minutes later the host came and said he could seat us at a table for 2 in their "bistro" section - which is 3 tables just behind the host station and the bar. Actually it was a pretty good seat and great timing, thanks to the very friendly and hospitable host, Rick Nelson.

Our waiter, Rob, was very friendly, knowledgeable about both the dinner and beer menus, and good-looking to boot. We shared an Ahi Tuna Nicoise Salad for an appetizer, which had the most delicious tiny halved potatoes sauteed in pesto - a wonderful idea I will copy in my own kitchen. For an entree I had the mussels cooked with white wine, butter and garlic. They were good but there was just too much garlic. They came with delicious crispy fries and a mayo/sauce trio, which included a garlic mayo, a curry mayo (similar to fries and curry that you might have in Ireland ~ brings back wonderful memories), and a tomato-brandy mayo. My fellow diner had the lamb shank, which was served with a sort of white bean stew. He did not care for the beans, but I thought they were delicious. I didn't try the lamb but apparently it fell right off the bone it was so tender.

After my cosmo I had a bottle of Leffe Blonde, and I know nothing of beer but it was good. My co-diner had a bottle of Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Flemish ale, and then we split a bottle of St. Louis Framboise beer (raspberry beer). That was weird, and way too sweet for me. Well, to tell the truth, I ordered it with my meal, and then realized it really didn't go well with mussels and fries, so Rob (the waiter) offered to put the glass and bottle back in the fridge until after I was done eating. Thank you Rob! That was a nice touch.

The women's restroom was very nice. Clean, with great black and white geometric wallpaper, and really modern black and white sinks. The sinks were very shallow but amazingly didn't splash! I love the stall doors, which actually closed each stall from ceiling to floor. But the best part is the little sign that changes when the door is either open or locked. For unlocked, it reads "Vacant" and for locked, it reads "Engaged" - how great is that? The towels were of such a high-quality paper they almost seemed like cloth, and they were printed with the Beck logo. I like those towels but they are a huge waste of resources. The doors to leave the bathroom and to leave the little hallway outside of the bathrooms were both push-out, which is great because you don't have to dirty your hands right after you wash them. And on a later trip to the restroom, I noticed that the wastebasket had been emptied of all towel waste, so there wasn't an overflowing volcano of dirty towels. The only suggestion I'd have for the bathroom is no more pink soap. It makes me think of McDonald's.

All in all I would return, although I think it's a good idea to have a reservation, especially on a weekend night. I would definitely order the fries again, they really were delicious. And there are many other traditional Belgian menu items that peaked my curiosity. I think the waiters are able to help you choose something if you're not familiar with the dishes. And I didn't try this either, but the raw bar looked great.

NOW - my note on Trader Joe's - just an update... I tried the Calabacita and Cheese quesadilla (they are meatless) and they are really delicious. That's it.

October 17, 2007

I Heart Trader Joe's!

I love Trader Joe's. Many people have actually said that Trader Joe's should pay me for all of the positive "press" I give it. I love so many things at TJ's that I can't even begin to list them all, but I will list a few here. Just in case you've needed a reason to try TJ's but just haven't gotten around to it yet, here are some really good ones:

Frozen avocado - ok, my local TJ's doesn't carry it anymore, but if you can find it, get it! They are halved, peeled, pitted, and always perfectly ripe. And way cheaper than buying them fresh.

Dubliner cheese - an Irish cheddar-style cheese, DEE-licious! They have a low-fat version too, but it just can't compare to the original.

Irish oatmeal - I love the consistency when I cook it on the stove.

Great drinks including sparkling orange and lemon sodas, and refreshing pink lemonade.

Great wines at low prices - recently they've been advertising La Francesca wines - I love that name!

Fabulous frozen veggies, including Greens With Envy, Haricots Verts (green beans), broccoli, spinach, mixed veggies, roasted corn, and others...

Recently I spotted 2 newer items in the frozen section, the Southwest Chicken Quesadillas and the Calabacitas and Cheese Quesadillas. I decided to try both. I've had one of the SW ones already - you defrost it in the microwave and then heat it in a skillet. It was actually pretty good, and I ate it with Avocado's Number Guacamole (fun reference to Chem 101 and the mol) from the refrigerated section. YUM-O! Ok there was one bite of chewy gross chicken but only one, and I soon forgot about it. Ok I tried to forget about it. But really, I still recommend it. I'll keep you posted on the other Quesadilla.

Go to Trader Joe's! It is an awesome grocery store! People who work there wear Hawaiian shirts and ring ship bells and shout things like Ahoy!

But PLEASE, Trader Joe: Open an express lane for people with 3 items or less! I've been in there buying 1-2 things and had to wait behind someone with a cart full of groceries.

October 15, 2007

Cafe Deluxe - Tysons

Tonight I went to one of my favorite local places, Cafe Deluxe. I love both the Tysons location and the DC location, mostly because they remind me of a dear friend who used to dine with me there on a regular basis when she lived in the area.

Their cosmos are still delicious, not too pink and sweet, and not pure alcohol, but still clear enough that you know it's worth your while. Also tasted the Columbia Crest Chardonnay, which can be ordered by the glass. Very crisp and refreshing. The bread was also tasty as usual, and fresh. My only complaint was that the water poured at the beginning had a terrible aftertaste, like it had been sitting close to rotting vegetables. When I said something, the waiter brought me a new glass with water (and sans ice, since I thought maybe it was the ice that tasted bad) but it still had the same taste. Very weird.

For dinner my friend and I both ordered salads - I had the Nicoise Salad with grilled salmon, and she had the Caesar Salad with steak. My salad was quite delicious, although the green beans needed to be cooked a little longer. (What is it with uncooked vegetables these days?) It had fresh lettuce, tasty tomatoes, fresh hard-boiled egg, green beans, black olives (two, to be exact), and perfectly cooked little new potatoes. The dressing was also delicious, but became too strong only at the very end when I was finishing every last bite of salad in the bowl.

For dessert we shared the brownie a la mode. It was a really appealing presentation: the little round brownie, warm and soft on the inside but with a lovely lighter brown crust, served with 3 sweet raspberries and mint on top, alongside a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum.

The waiter seemed totally out of it the whole night, and kept trying to give us the check so he could leave. He was ok I guess, and was happy to bring me a 2nd cosmo and then dessert at the end. All in all a fun evening at CD, with some great music playing in the background, including a slow hit by Everything But the Girl, a bittersweet favorite of mine.

Did not visit the restroom but they are usually ok. And free parking alongside/underneath Crate & Barrel is a big plus.

October 14, 2007

Silver Diner - Always Fun

Last night I ended my evening at the Silver Diner on Wilson Blvd in Arlington. A favorite place of mine, it was the perfect spot for late-night eats. On Friday and Saturday nights it gets so packed in there - the later it gets, the more people come in (and the drunker they are).

I wasn't that hungry so I ordered the Greek Salad. I'd never had it before, but I enjoyed it, and I would get it again. Then for dessert, I got the Health Shake. Sucking it up through that fat straw made me think of fun times that I miss. Sometimes you get big chunks of banana or strawberry that pop up out of the straw. It's a real treat.

SS and SD - 2 classics that I'm always thinking of.

October 12, 2007

CUA Crabfest

Today was the annual grad student Crabfest at CUA in DC. Of course I had to attend, if only to see how bad it would be this year, but also to spend some QT with my friends that, due to the fact that we're all done with coursework, I never see. Is that a run-on sentence or what? Maybe not. There was one person missing from Crabfest, but I still had to make an appearance.

Impressed by the beer selection, there was a choice on tap of Bud Light, some Pumpkin Spice Ale, and Beck's. You did have to stand in a long line, but the plastic cups they gave us at the entrance were pretty big.

Crabs - I just can't get into them. I love crabcakes, and every time I go to the Crabfest I'm reminded why crab meat is just that expensive. Because it's a pain in the butt to remove from the crab! I just gave up after attempting to get meat out of 2 claws, and I'm sad to say it but I threw away 2 perfectly good crabs, who apparently died for nothing. Sorry crabs!

Corn on the cob - ran out of it for like 2 hours, but then it came back - soggy...

Coleslaw - good, and that's coming from a person who doesn't even like coleslaw...

Pulled pork sandwiches - also disappeared for a good 2 hours and then reappeared only to disappear within a matter of minutes again...

Hamburgers - did not resemble meat in the slightest, I heard someone say they were "inedible"...

Hot dogs - splotchy color but still tasty, with mustard and relish and ketchup, oh my!

Veggie burgers - looked really similar to the hamburgers, did not try them...

And lots of cookies and fruit salad. As soon as the sun went down, in the shadow of the Basilica, it became FREEZING outside! Thanks Toni for bringing us a blanket to sit on, because otherwise our butts would have frozen to the ground!

And boo to the people who managed to hit my friend in the head TWICE with a football before finally realizing that maybe they shouldn't be playing ball so close to people sitting down eating with their backs to them. Hope her head is ok!

Long live Crabfest! (Only next year, could we make it something different, like Crabcakefest? Or BBQfest? Or Shrimpfest? Shrimp are much easier to peel!)

October 11, 2007

Thai Silver Spring

Tonight I ate at Thai Silver Spring. I think that's the name of it. It's in a neat area of downtown Silver Spring that I have never seen before, near the Discovery building. There's a cool colorful fountain outside the building and Thai is up a pretty tall set of stairs. I'm guessing there's an elevator to get up there as well, but I didn't see it or look for it. There are a bunch of restaurants in the same building, including Romano's Macaroni Grille, Lebanese Taverna Cafe (more casual version of the well-known restaurant), Austin Grille, and Ceviche, which I've heard is pretty yummy.

Our business meeting started out kind of rushed, so we all skipped on appetizers. I ordered sauteed beanthread cellophane noodles with chicken, tomato, onion (lots of onion), egg, and scallions. I asked for it spicy but when it first arrived it was bland, so I told the waitress and she whisked it away to the kitchen and it came back just a few minutes later, hot again from the pan and pretty hot from the chili too. It was pretty good. I love those noodles.

I drank water but tasted a Thai iced tea that my fellow diner ordered, which tasted like a milky and quite sweet version of Earl Grey, with an orange tint. Tasty but not really with dinner.

I was sorry to hear that they didn't have any mango for the mango with sticky rice for dessert, so instead I ordered the Almond Custard. On the menu it reads: Almond Custard with Fruit Salad. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT order this dessert. The custard was neither creamy nor custardy, nor did it have but the faintest reminder of almond flavor. And you know what the fruit salad was??? I think it was a Dole fruit cup, 80% pineapple, dumped on top of this flavorless lump of "custard" in a bowl. I should have known something was up when I ordered the dessert. "It comes with fruit salad, right?" I asked the waitress, and she said, "OK." Almost as if she was saying, "if that's what you want to call it..."

The restaurant itself was open and clean, and smelled yummy upon entering. The bathrooms were also clean, and they get an A+ for automatic soap dispensers! That's not something I see very often. But why would they have automatic soap dispensers when they have manual paper towel dispensers - the kind that after you pull off a towel, you have to turn the wheel on the side to get the next one to pop out. Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose???

I'd recommend Thai for some tasty Thai dishes, but I don't think they are offering anything amazing or unusual on the menu, and it's not worth leaving Northern VA when there are so many good Thai restaurants on that side of DC. And don't, I mean DON'T, order the almond custard.

October 8, 2007

Halloween Cookies

I have decided to make some Halloween cookies. After perusing the latest Martha Stewart Living magazine, with the cute Halloween cookies, I think I just have to do it. Maybe I'll bring them to share with my students - who are always appreciative of free food, especially when it's homemade. Once I make them, I'll take pictures and post them here... My first picture posts on this blog. It just never occured to me to put pics up, but now I think it's absolutely necessary. I'll have to research how to do it right away!

J'ai perdu mon appetit...

So I've lost my appetite, and I'm not sure when it might come back. Does this mean that I have lost my interest in food, restaurants, exciting combinations of flavors, and innovative cuisine? No. I just don't want to try any of it myself.

Oh la tristesse...

Don't worry, though. If I taste anything worth writing about, I will still mention it here, so all of my readers (is there even one?) can read all about it.

And bathrooms - well, I'll still be filling you in on any noteworthy ones that I encounter. Like the one in the Cosi' sandwich shop/bar in Courthouse (Arlington, VA) that just does not want to flush. I think the little handle would actually turn 360 degrees around if you really tried, and it just never got to the "flush" point. Hmm. It's tricky to flush a toilet with your foot anyway, but try it when the handle just keeps turning!