Open City

When I decided to go to Open City I had almost completely recuperated from the PTSD of my last dining experience. With that being said, in the midst of my recovery I wanted to go somewhere unassuming, inexpensive, and casual. Since I was in the Woodley Park area, I decided Open City would be the best choice.

It was mid-afternoon on a week day and their “Please Seat Yourself” sign was up at the host stand, so I followed instruction and graciously took a seat.

Open City is a casual diner with closely placed tables and ceiling fans throughout; similar to that of a New Orleans café. The patrons ranged from families with young children to business men and women just getting off of work. When I took a seat I had a brief moment of doubt as to whether or not anyone would come greet me but they did and well within a reasonable amount of time with water and menu in hand.

After perusing Open City’s options, I decided on the Spinach and Roasted Garlic Dip with pita bread and the Grilled Tilapia BLT with chili lime tartar sauce.

The relaxed setting combined with the variation of patrons provided a degree of anonymity that I appreciated after a long work week and I had no hesitation sprawling some paperwork out on the table before my meal; however, before I made any substantial progress the food had arrived and I was delightfully pleased at the speed at which it came.

I started with the Spinach and Roasted Garlic Dip. The dip was extremely smooth, creamy and was topped with a delightful excess of cheese. The roasted garlic was present and very complimentary to the dish. The pita bread was good with this dip but I must be honest. After looking to my right and seeing the other guests with their house made chips I did wish I had chosen them instead.

Open City Spinach and Roasted Garlic Dip

Open City Spinach and Roasted Garlic Dip

The Grilled Tilapia BLT consisted of freshly grilled tilapia, tomatoes, lettuce, apple wood smoked bacon, and chili lime tartar sauce on two pieces of white toast. The tilapia was fresh, perfectly cooked, and void of any musty or fishy flavor. The bacon was sliced substantially thick and added a great sweet and smoky component to the sandwich. All of the produce used was fresh and ripe (truly nothing worse than what would have been a good sandwich with soggy lettuce and un-ripened tomatoes), and the chili lime tartar sauce added a lightly spiced undertone to the sandwich and was appreciated.

Open City Grilled Tilapia BLT

Open City Grilled Tilapia BLT

Open City Grilled Tilapia BLT

Open City Grilled Tilapia BLT

Holistically speaking, my dining experience was satisfactory. The servers were personable and attentive, the food was extremely affordable, and the atmosphere was comfortable and casual. Whether visiting the Smithsonian National Zoo or randomly in the area, I can’t see you going wrong by stopping in Open City for a quick bite.

2331 Calvert Street NW, Washington, DC 20008
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 © 2014 thehonestbite.com All Rights Reserved

Founding Farmers

Now, I have dined at Founding Farmers in Washington, D.C. before and didn’t have such a favorable experience but decided to give it another unbiased try. It was raining outside and all I could think of was the comforting Chicken Pot Pie I had seen on the menu my last visit. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to have something to warm me up on a day that couldn’t be more dreary.

I walked in and immediately greeted the host at the host stand (yes, I greeted the host). I told him that I was dining alone and asked him whether or not it would be easier for me to grab a table or sit at the bar. The host nonchalantly stated I should go with the bar and thus, I happily found a seat.

It was late afternoon. There were three patrons aside from myself and two bartenders on either side of the bar. I was so beside myself with excitement that I didn’t mind having to wait to be greeted by a bartender, after all, my Chicken Pot Pie was right around the corner. After five minutes of sitting there without anyone saying two words to me and with not a glass of water to wet my lips I was forced to politely take matters into my own hands. The bartender directly in front of me (yes, literally directly in front of me) was immersed in conversation with who appeared to be a gentleman friend. My next option was to ask the other bartender who was technically more occupied but also more engaged in his duties.

Ah, lo and behold! I just so happened to place the face of the “occupied” bartender. In fact, I had served in a restaurant with him years and years ago. All of my culinary prayers had been answered. I flagged him down from the other end of the bar and he not only took my order (classic Devil-ish Eggs and the Chicken Pot Pie), but also suggested and made me a delicious New York Sour.

After approximately five minutes, all was forgiven. I had my beverage and my first course of Devil-ish Eggs. The Devil-ish Eggs were truly your basic deviled egg and had a home-style taste. The only thing I did not enjoy about them was the abundance of white onion and chive. The onion was entirely too overpowering for the amount of filling; had there just been the chive sprinkled on top they would have been delicious.

Founding Farmer Devil-ish Eggs

Founding Farmer Devil-ish Eggs

I cannot say in confidence that I would order the Devil-ish Eggs again but that was quite alright because my Chicken Pot Pie with delectable filling and flaky crust was on the way and my second drink was poured. Life was good.

I opened a book and read for about twenty minutes before realizing my main course had not come. I looked to my left and a patron who had just arrived placed his order, but still no feedback was given as to the status of my own.

Ten more minutes pass and the patrons to my left and to my right received their food. I looked down at the sight before me. An empty glass and three warm Devil-ish Eggs stood alone with still no updates about my food.

Fifteen minutes later (making it a grand total of 45 minutes), there was no Chicken Pot Pie, no update, no water re-fill, and no old acquaintance in sight.

I felt I had no choice but to cancel my order.  I had completely lost my appetite and any future craving for Founding Farmers Washington, D.C.  I left disappointed, dejected, and worst of all…hungry.

I can only hope that this was a fluke and that Founding Farmers will live up to its reputation in the future. I, unfortunately, will have to hear about it second-hand.

1924 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006
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© 2014 thehonestbite.com All Rights Reserved

Gail Simmons, Talking with My Mouth Full

Eat. Write. Travel. Cook. Those were the four words Gail Simmons jotted down when asked what her passions were by a family friend. Ever since then those words have become a major part of her life. Talking with my Mouth Full is a memoir documenting Gail Simmons’ undeniable passion for food as well as her trailblazing journey into the unknown as a woman food critic and television personality.

From eating at her mother’s kitchen counter to collecting eggs in Nahariya, Israel as a volunteer, it is apparent that Simmons was destined for culinary notoriety through her enthusiasm and true appreciation of food and learning no matter the situation.
Simmons’ gives the reader a heart-felt re-telling of her life to present day and manages to poeticize the food we eat and humanize the chefs that we admire without being an exposé, but a tasteful window into the vast world of culinary arts.

Truly motivating, Simmons’ book has the capabilities of lighting the fire underneath anyone who has a passion for something but doesn’t quite know how to “get the ball rolling.” Gail Simmons’ teaches us that through love, life, passion, learning, openness to experience and sweat equity anything is possible.

Gail Simmons, Talking with My Mouth Full

Gail Simmons, Talking with My Mouth Full

© 2014 thehonestbite.com All Rights Reserved

 

Cava Mezze

Recently, after visiting Eastern Market I went to Cava Mezze in Capitol Hill on 8th street. The etymology of the word mezze or “meze” originates from the former cuisine of the Ottoman Empire and translates to, “taste, flavor, snack and relish,” and my experience at Cava Mezze embodied just that.

Cava Mezze is a Greek inspired restaurant and has something for every budget and every palate. Upon entering you will be happily immersed in rich mahogany, exposed brick, and appropriately placed artwork. My dining companion and I were sat promptly and greeted by our server within minutes. Prior to visiting Cava Mezze I knew that the dishes were tapa-style and assumed that I would have to order 5 to 6 plates just to get remotely full but wisely decided to ask our server for advice on an ordering technique.

Our server recommended we order 2 to 3 dishes per person. She also said that each plate was intended to be shared and would not be served in any particular order; instead, the dishes would be served in the order that they were done cooking. I must admit, I do enjoy a certain level of control with any dining experience. Knowing what is to come first, second, and third always makes me anticipatorily pleased. This style of dining; however, was a delightful change and let’s be honest, who smiles at the thought of their food sitting underneath a culinary food lamp for the sake of course order.

While eating our complimentary pita bread and assortment of olive oils we decided to order from four different mezze categories on the menu: Vegetable Mezze, Mini and Sliders, Meat Mezze, and Seafood Mezze. The dishes we selected were the Zucchini Fritters (with aged barrel feta, herbs, and tzatziki), the Roasted Mushrooms (with cremini and hen of the woods mushrooms, kefalograviera cheese, roasted garlic and thyme), the mini gyros (with lamb, beef, fries, marinated tomato, red onion, and tzatziki), the pork gyro (a Sunday special with slow-roasted pork and the same toppings), the Pork Belly (with honey and thyme), and the Shrimp Souvlaki (with garlic, dill, lemon and oregano grilled on a skewer).

Cava Mezze Roasted Mushrooms

Cava Mezze Roasted Mushrooms

Cava Mezze Pork Belly

Cava Mezze Pork Belly

Cava Mezze Mini Gyro with Lamb and Beef

Cava Mezze Mini Gyro with Lamb and Beef

Cava Mezze Pork Gyro

Cava Mezze Pork Gyro

Everything was good but there were four obvious stars to this show. The first being the Roasted Mushrooms. The garlic and thyme danced together magically and the addition of the kefalograviera cheese (which is a hard and salty sheep and/or goat mixed cheese) gave the perfect flavor contrast. The second was the Pork Belly. The honey in this dish made something that was already delicious, absolutely amazing. The Pork Belly had a very thin, crisp and golden outside and a moist, melt-in-your-mouth inside. Since pork belly is a boneless cut of fatty meat, it would be assumed that the fat would be offensive but it was quite the opposite experience. In fact, had I not known more dishes were on the way I may have had to order another serving to take home. The third and fourth stars of the show were the Mini Gyros and the Pork Gyros. As previously stated, the gyros both had their respected meat, fries, marinated tomatoes, red onion, and tzatziki sauce. All of the toppings were extremely complimentary to the meat within the gyro. The tomatoes were ripened to perfection, the red onion was sliced extremely thin and was un-offensive, the fries were fresh, and the tzatziki sauce was not sour or sweet but a fresh and balanced composition.

Each dish was respectful to all of its parts, uniquely pleasant and I left completely satisfied. What more could you ask for?

Cava Mezze, 527 8th Street SE, Washington, DC 20003
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© 2014 thehonestbite.com All Rights Reserved

District Taco

I am constantly on a search for the perfect taco. No really, constantly. Coming from California where Spanish influence is evident(from the street names to the food), I went into a state of culture shock when I moved to Washington, D.C. only to realize that finding something as simple as a quality taco was like finding a needle in a haystack.

I have walked by District Taco on F Street many times without entertaining the thought of giving it a try. Not because of negative stories or bad advertising but because I have been disappointed far too many times with what I will refer to as “the bad DC taco.”

Due to the freezing weather conditions and my need for all things spicy, and warm; today, I knew it was time for me to take a chance. After all, there has to be something special about any business that successfully transitioned from a food truck to a restaurant.

DistrictTaco1

District Taco F Street View

When I first walked into District Taco I was a bit taken aback with the magnitude of the lunch rush but the music and faint sounds of spatulas on flat tops solidified my decision to wait patiently and place my order. After just 2 minutes of waiting in line one of the cashiers escorted me and another patron to the back of the restaurant to place our orders and expedite the speed of the line. With the helpful guidance of the cashier I decided on three tacos: two carne asada tacos (a taco with grilled chopped steak), and one fish taco which was their special for the day.

I received my food within five minutes of ordering, immediately hit the salsa bar and grabbed a seat upstairs at a shared dining table. The first taco I tasted was the carne asada taco with a flour tortilla and toppings of my choice (pico de gallo, sour cream and cheese). The second taco was a carne asada taco with a corn tortilla the “Mexican way” with onions and cilantro. Lastly, the third taco was the fish taco which had its own special sauce and shredded cabbage.

District Taco Salsa Bar

District Taco Salsa Bar

District Taco Carne Asada Taco

District Taco Carne Asada Taco

District Taco Carne Asada Taco

District Taco Carne Asada Taco

Within first bite I knew I had made the right decision by giving District Taco a try. The carne asada could have used more of a char but was well-seasoned with garlic and the perfect amount of salt. The fish was lightly breaded, fried until golden, flaky and flavorful. All of the toppings were fresh, (my personal favorite being the citrusy pico de gallo) and the corn tortillas were delicious without being dried out or stale tasting.

Could I liken the tacos at District Taco to the tacos I could grab on the street corners of Los Angeles…not quite, but were they some of best D.C. tacos I have had to date, yes!

District Taco, 1309 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004
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© 2014 thehonestbite.com All Rights Reserved

Nizza

I consider Hell’s Kitchen to be a culinary “promise land” whenever I am visiting New York and was thrilled to have stumbled upon Nizza on my mission to escape the subpar food that lingers menacingly just a few blocks away in Times Square.

Nizza is an Italian restaurant located on 9th Avenue. When I entered Nizza freezing from head-to-toe, I couldn’t help but notice the warmth emanating from the room. The restaurant is quaint with hues of oranges, yellows, golds, and browns throughout. My dining companion and I were walked casually to our seats and invited to hang our coats on a communal coat rack. When our menus were presented to us the first thing the hostess asked was if we were gluten-free. Although I am not, I was glad to hear her say that Nizza made being “restricted” to a gluten-free diet easy for everyone with a wide variety of delectable dining options.

After perusing the menu both my dining companion and I ordered the Linguine Clams and were served a delicious plate of fresh focaccia bread and olive oil. The Linguine Clams consisted of manila clams cooked in a sauce of white wine, garlic, herbs and butter over a bed of linguine.

Nizza Linguine Clams

Nizza Linguine Clams

The pasta was perfectly al dente; the clams were cooked well and still tasted of the sea, and the sauce was very light with a pronounced garlic and white wine flavor. I enjoyed the simplicity of this dish and after quite a few heavy and complex meals earlier in the week; it was refreshing to eat something that someone’s mother could have made you in their eat-in kitchen on a whim.

I don’t have any complaints about Nizza and would be interested to see what else their menu had to offer in the future. Until then, I am simply grateful Nizza gave me the delicious escape I needed away from the bustling streets and pushy tourists.

Nizza, 630 9th Avenue, New York, NY 10036
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© 2014 thehonestbite.com All Rights Reserved

Les Halles Brasserie

I had anticipated dining at Les Halles for quite some time, not merely because of its well-known “chef-at-large,” Anthony Bourdain, but because of its deserving reputation of preparing quality American beef in a French style.

From Park Avenue, I was instantly struck by the charm and inviting nature of the beautifully placed globe street lamps and outdoor seating; very reminiscent of those you may find on a French street corner.

Les Halles Park Avenue View

Les Halles Park Avenue View

I booked a reservation prior to my visit and was promptly seated upon my arrival with a very healthy appetite. Within a minute of being seated my fellow dining companion and I were greeted by our server who presented both of our menus and a substantial wine list. We opted out of wine for the evening and immediately placed our premeditated orders.

For my first course I ordered the Gratinée de Halles (a classic onion soup), followed by a main course of Moules Marinière ou Portugaise, Frites (mussels cooked in a white wine based broth and French fries). My dinner companion ordered the Planche de Grillades which consisted of thick-cut bacon, a lamb chop, hanger steak, merguez (a spicy lamb sausage), a pork sausage, frites (French fries) and Provençal dressing.

Les Halles Gratinée de Halles

Les Halles Gratinée de Halles

Les Halles Moules Marinière ou Portugaise,

Les Halles Moules Marinière ou Portugaise,

 

Les Halles Planche de Grillades

Les Halles Planche de Grillades

Les Halles Frites

Les Halles Frites

I have to immediately start by saying everything was good; however, there were a few things that deserve honorable mention. Firstly, the Gratinée de Halles was holistically a satisfactory experience but the Gruyère cheese that so generously blanketed the top of the dish was outstanding. The Gruyère was rich, creamy, and full-bodied with a very light hint of nutty flavor. Secondly, the Planche de Grillades was a pretty good selection for a first-time patron who wants a taste of everything; however,  the thick-cut bacon was absolutely delicious and in my personal opinion managed to outshine the other parts of the platter. The bacon had a perfect balance of smoky and sweet flavor and wasn’t at all overly salty or offensively satiated by fat, contrary to what bacon has become to the average American. Last, but not least the French fries were quite addictive and I was in awe of their unique crispiness and pronounced Yukon potato flavor. It comes as no surprise that the French fries are an award-winning feature of the menu.

The service that we received was impeccable but can only be accredited to the hard-working food runners and busboys. Our water glasses were always full, our tables always cleared of unnecessary clutter and as if that wasn’t enough, I was chased down by a busboy on Park Avenue after leaving Les Halles with a pair of gloves I had dropped in the restaurant. Yes, it was a very casual, affordable, and an appreciated experience, indeed.

Les Halles, 411 Park Avenue S, New York, NY 10016
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