I am always looking for fun culinary experiences and inspiration for my cooking class menus. Here are my dining highlights from 2018!
January - Bebop: Korean Mexican Grill, Fairfax
I usually am a fan of fusion cuisine, but this meal was a definite MISS. Mexican and Korean flavors were not a good blend. Trying their best to be a "new Chipotle" the food was just disappointing.
This winery is my favorite, not only for the wine, but the lovely atmosphere and the food trucks! It is a HIT in my book.
They have a lovely selection of wines to choose from and a small cafe with grab and go items including fresh bread, cheeses and charcuterie. In addition, they have some food trucks on the weekends to broaden your choices of cuisine to accompany your bottle of vino!
Since I make homemade pasta frequently, Italian food is normally not my first choice when I go out to eat, but sometimes I just need a great bowl of pasta! You know what I mean?
We decided to try Alta Strada at Mosaic because it always seemed full of customers, a good sign, right? I called ahead and the host told me to find him when we arrived. True to his word, we skipped the line and he sat us immediately. Already we are off to a good start!
My photography was lacking for this experience. The restaurant was a little dark so my pictures don't do the food justice. I really liked what I ordered and the service was very good even though the place was packed on a Saturday night. It was a HIT!
For Mother's Day we went to Clyde's in Georgetown for lunch, but I wanted to have dessert at a bakery nearby, Baked and Wired. I am not sure how long the "cupcake mania" is going to last. There are a few shows still on the Food Network, but I do not see many new cupcake bakeries opening. In fact one just closed at Fairfax Corner that had been featured on the Food Network for their dipped cupcakes. Sorry, I digress. Being from California, I am a strong Sprinkles fan. I was hopeful when we arrived at Baked and Wired. There was quite a long line and that means good right?
What is not apparent from the outside is that THERE ARE TWO LINES one for "baked" and the other "wired". This is great if you want one or the other, but if you want a coffee and a cupcake, you are standing in line TWICE! We divided and conquered, I stood in one line, my daughter in the other. In my humble opinion, it was a little annoying.
But overall the experience was a good one! A HIT in my opinion, but I will walk down the extra block and buy a cupcake from Sprinkles next time!
*** One of my favorites all year!
Brunch is one of my favorite meals and Parallel in Ashburn is one of my favorite restaurants to eat it!
Just look at this Fried Chicken & Waffle Benedict!
It was a BIG HIT with my family and the friends who joined us there. I highly recommend this restaurant!
Sometimes you just want to go out to eat close by, something easy and quick. I had heard about Spartan's in Burke, but I had never tried it. My son and I went for lunch on a weekday. The restaurant is huge and the menu is even bigger. Does the sheer amount of choices ever put you off? I always think "how can they prepare this many items WELL?" Unfortunately, my experience was just average. The portion size is huge! So you get a lot for your money, but the quality was just OK. My entree was burnt and I think my baklava is better. It is hard for me to pay for food I can make better at home.
This was a MISS for me!
July: 29 Diner, Fairfax, VA
Open since 1947, this 24 hour diner, is a blast from the past!
It is not a place serving "haute cuisine". It serves BBQ they smoke in the parking lot and homemade pie! I have also been here for breakfast, too. It is comfort food and local favorites served up with not a garnish in sight!
It's perfect for the kids on a Saturday morning or late at night for a pulled pork sandwich. This is a HIT for me not just for the simple food, but the atmosphere of how it used to be!
August: Social Burger, Vienna, VA
As I was preparing for both my kids to go to college, one starting her senior year, the other his freshman year, I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. They are always up for trying a new place with me. We headed over to Social Burger in Vienna, a family owned burger joint. Their website said that they care about: real food, quality ingredients, the environment, and our community. Who doesn't? As a small business owner myself, I like to support other small businesses when I can.
Hamburgers start at $5.99 with $1.00 extra if you want cheese on it.
And fries are extra. The place is small with just a few tables. We had to eat at the counter in the window after waiting for a few minutes. The place was full so my expectations were high. The burger was a bit disappointing. There was not a lot of flavor. I prefer a burger from Shake Shack or Five Guys to be honest.
This place was just OK. I am sad to say this is really a MISS when it is so easy to find a really good burger locally.
September: Taverna Cretekou, Old Town Alexandria, VA
My husband and I usually do not go out on Friday nights. After a long week we just want to stay in, order pizza and watch Netflix, but this night we met some of his colleagues at Murphy's Grand Irish Pub. They were celebrating 40 years in business and all the Guinness beer was only $.40 a glass! After an hour we were ready for some dinner in a quieter setting. His friends suggested we go to Taverna Cretekou which was only two blocks away.
When we arrived at 6pm on a Friday night the interior of the restaurant was completely empty! However, they have a lovely patio in the back.
The servers outnumbered the diners, so it was a little unnerving. But we ordered and settled in! For the first course I ordered the Saganaki. Here is the menu description "Kasseri Cheese Sautéed Until Crusty. Served — Sizzling — with Lemon." - $8.95
This is not something I make at home, which is usually how I start selecting my dinner choices.
Well the description was right on! Not a garnish in sight nor the flames I was expecting. I have videos of saganaki before, so I was a bit disappointed it was not on fire! It was fine, but I would order a different appetizer in the future. Next I had the moussaka because that was what our friends had suggested we order. But again I was disappointed. I feel like my version is better and more flavorful. At $18.95 I was hoping for spectacular.
So overall this is neither a HIT nor MISS but somewhere in between. The setting is nice and a night out in Old Town is always a treat. I just wish the food had been a little better.
October: Farmhouse, Christiansburg, VA
For my birthday this year I requested no gifts, just a trip to see our boy at college. The choices for fine dining around Blacksburg, VA are not numerous. A friend of mine had hosted a lunch for her son in the caboose of this restaurant and said the food was good.
We did not reserve the caboose for my small party, but opted for a table indoors instead!
We all ordered the prime rib and creme brulée for dessert. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The food was very good and I enjoyed it very much. It was a HIT.
November: The Italian Store, Arlington, VA
One of my students suggested I try the Italian Store in Arlington so I met a friend for shopping and lunch in November. Not only is it a Italian specialty grocery store, they house a sandwich shop, delicatessan, pizzeria, coffee bar and gelateria.
I ordered the Milano sandwich for lunch. They offer two types of rolls, hard or soft. I opted for the hard roll. I thought it was good. The real reason to venture to this place is the specialty cheeses, wine and Italian products. It is not a place I could shop regularly, but for a splurge every now and then it is a special treat.
I spoke with the manager and he was very friendly and helpful. I suggest you hop on their website and sign up for their newsletter. They occasionally have wine tastings, and a true Italian mozzarella cheese maker selling his wares in the store! This place is a HIT for me!
November (again!): District Dumpling, Mosaic, Fairfax, VA
I could not leave out this small restaurant my daughter and I tried over Thanksgiving break. It has a great story! Having lived in Japan, I am no stranger to dumplings, otherwise known as Gyoza! My husband's favorite Asian restaurant in Asia is Din Tai Fung (they have a Michelin star...for DUMPLINGS!). They also have a few locations in the USA.
We made a special trip to Tokyo every few months just to eat here.
Anyway, I was excited to see that District Dumpling has the same "soup dumplings" offered at Din Tai Fung.
They make them fresh when you order so there is a bit of a wait.
While we were waiting for our dumplings we perused through a cookbook that was on the counter...
Speaking with the lady who took our order, I found out that the co-owner of District Dumpling is the author of this book! She lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution, where thousands of Chinese youths were sent to the countryside to live, work and be
"re-educated" in an effort to rid them of their "capitalist ideals" and educate them in Communism. I think it backfired! She is now an American living in Falls Church and owns a restaurant. If that is not the epitome of Capitalism I don't know what is!
The dumplings on the left are the soup ones and we ordered a few different flavors for the ones pictured on the right. We ordered them steamed, but you have the option to get them fried. I may opt for fried next time. Although tasty, they were a bit close together in the bamboo steamer so they were stuck together. Other than that I enjoyed my lunch there very much. District Dumplings is a HIT for me!
December: Zatinya, Washington DC
Christmas break was upon us and the kids and I went to the National Portrait Gallery to get cultured! After a few hours of looking at the art we walked out the back door and across the street to Zatinya, the restaurant owned by famous chef, José Andrés.
The first thing you should know is...there is an unlimited basket of fresh pita bread.
I asked the server about these because our table was close to the kitchen door and there was a basket flying through the doors every 30 seconds. They have a pita bread maker machine! Maybe an item for next year's Christmas list?\
Next came the HUMMUS....
Yes, I will admit it is better than mine, but just a little!
Like all trendy restaurants, Zatinya has also bought into the "small plates" model. I get that it is nice to taste multiple things, but why are these small plates so darn expensive?
My daughter opted for the Mezze Lunch, which is $25 for four small plates. I wanted to try a few different things that were not offered on the set menu.
I started my meal with the avgolemono chicken soup. Instead of the egg yolks stirred in to thicken the broth, they plop in a barely cooked egg. Sorry, my version is better. (I can teach you of you want to learn!)
Next I ordered the Bronzino, which is Mediterranean sea bass. Although small, it was delicious!
My son ordered the grilled sirloin.
Again, very tasty but he needed more food!
We finished with the Turkish delight. I have had this before, given to me by my Turkish friend - a chewy rose flavored and sugar coated candy. This is not the same thing.
The chef has his own version. (walnut ice cream, yogurt mousse, honey gelée, orange-caramel sauce, caramelized pine nuts) It was very delightful.
Although a bit pricey, I still recommend Zatinya. It was a HIT for me and the kids!
I hope this list inspires you to venture out and try some new restaurants.
Next week I will have a list of places I want to try in 2019!