Tuesday, August 31

Oui, Oui, Bistro la Bonne!

I decided about two weeks ago that I deserved an expensive lunch. I'm sure the decision to pamper myself had more to do with my serial viewing of "Julie & Julia" on HBO and a few extra dollars in my pocket than any real momentous accomplishment. Amy and Meryl just made French food look SO goooood, I had to get some myself. So I set up a reservation for Bistro la Bonne on U St., a new-ish place I had heard good things about.
I arrive for a late lunch, around 1 o'clock, and there is one other table there, an older couple finishing up some mussels. Although there was more staff than patrons at this point, it still felt cozy and crowded, the way most French bistros should (in my limited Parisian experience, anyway). Beer and food specials were written haphazardly on some chalkboards above the bar. There was paper on the tables, full flatware and glassware settings at each seat, weird music being pushed through speakers hung high on the ceiling, etc.
My water glass was filled as soon as I sat, which was a GREAT thing, considering I was sweating my ass off from the intense heat wave washing over the District. She handed me a menu, smiled, and walked away. THANK. YOU. I love unassuming and gentle service, and she was well on her way to getting a fat tip.
Of course, I had already decided on one or two things from the menu, as is my M.O. Appetizer would have to be the soupe a l'oignon gratinee, one of my favorite uber-involved soups of all time (that's French onion soup, bee-tee-dubs). It came out in an immense crock, overflowing with molten swiss and gruyere cheeses smothering a few thick croutons. It was flavorful but not overpowering, filled with onions and even more cheese, and I had a hard time choking down the entire thing. The CHEESE, my god, all the cheese! A tad overkill for French cuisine if you ask me. It was almost like I had asked McDonald's to supersize it for me. Phew.
I could not decide what I wanted for my main entree; it was a toss-up between the short ribs (Travers de Boeuf puree de Pomme de Terre au Fromage) at $24 a plate, or the beef medallions with asparagus and shrimp risotto (Medallion de boeuf servi avec un risotto aux asperges et crevettes) for $22. I asked my server, and she convinced me to go fir the short ribs, at it is a more authentic French dish and not a more typical plate. I agreedto her upsell (I don't hate, I would have done the same thing), and I waited for my short ribs.
This was my first experience with short ribs. Every time I have tried to order them from a menu before, they were all out for the night, or something else like lamb or rabbit would entice me more than the shorties. So when my dish came out in a bowl, I was taken aback. Not in a bad way, I just expected, well, ribs. On a plate. With potato puree and some roasted veggies on a side, and some sauce poured over the meat. Not so with those slick little Frenchies. It was like a stew, with potato on the bottom, and a hunk of bone-in short ribs plopped in the middle of it all, and then surrounded by pearl onions, button mushrooms (gross, I actually ate one thinking it was an onion), and chunks of carrots that swam in this awesomely rich, dark wine sauce that I would have drank through a straw if I was having Secret Shame Night at home.
After the soup experience I went through just 10 minute earlier, I had a hard time getting through this dish, and when I asked if I could take it home, I was greeted with a smile, a nod, and not one hint of French pretension. Love love love. She packaged it up for me, asked if I would like coffee or dessert (I'm pretty sure I actually guffawed at this poor girl. Literally snorted a laugh at her, as I said I would just take the check, thanks). The whole thing ran me $40 with a fat tip as I had mentioned earlier. I would have tried to recruit this chick for my own restaurant if I had one. Her service was perfect.
I stuck around and tried to digest the lumps of cheese and meat I had engorged on as I read my book.
I guess the fact that I don't really eat French food often may have something to do with my surprise at its presentation. I always assumed it was lighter than what I got, but there must be some sect of their cuisine that takes after American's sentiment to eat until they're full, then eat some more. Either way, the food was great, I had enough left over for a great little dinner, the service was absolutely fantastic, and although it was pretty expensive, I knew what I was getting myself into, and it was proportional to what I walked away with. Bostro la Bonne, you get 3.5 NOMS!

Because it's funny.

Because we've all done this at one time or another, right?

Zola, Zola, Zola. You've been a bad restaurant!

The first time I ever went to Zola, it was Restaurant Week. H and M and I made a reservation at this lovely "restaurant of leaves", so to speak, and I for one was very excited. The thing about Zola, which was unlike any other restaurant I had been to up to that point, was their RW menu. They didn't limit the choices their guests had, and everything they offered for lunch and dinner was up for grabs. So, if you ordered appetizer, entree and dessert, you got the discounted price, no matter your choices. Bravo, Zola. Bra. Vo.
I had the tune tartare (big surprise) and the lamb, and some chocolatey dessert. I melted into my seat with each bite, and had to summon every ounce of sophisticated energy I had NOT to hum and dance in my seat as I ate. Five Noms!
I have been to Zola a few times since, always during Restaurant Week (I'm not rich. Yet.), and always with the highest of expectations.
So I was pretty deflated when my latest RW experience at Zola didn't live up to my hype. Sigh.
My server was definitely new. His name was Jeffrey and it took him 10 minutes to greet me after I was seated. Of course, I had already known what I was going to eat before I got there, as I research the crap out of every restaurant menu online before I arrive. Meh, whatever, I was in no rush and had brought a book with me. (Yes, I am that girl, and no, I don't feel pathetic. Eating solo lunches is relaxing to me, and I do not think this is a sign that I will end up a multiple cat-owner and the subject of an episode of "Hoarding.")
Jeffrey apologizes, takes my order, and brings me a glass of water. Then he brings the ginger lemonade, which was a bit too tart for me, even though they obviously added grenadine to sweeten it up and make it look pretty.
I get the appetizer, fava bean and pancetta tortelloni, which was absolutely incredible. It was sauced perfectly, the pasta was cooked to perfection, and there were complex flavors all up in that bitch.
My main entree was beef sirloin over quinoa with asparagus and a mushroom glaze. The flavors here were a bit overwhelming, but the asparagus, which was chopped into the quinoa, gave it a great crunchy texture. The mushroom glaze had no real mushrooms in it (score!), and that is where all the intense flavors came in. For something that is supposed to be a glaze, it tasted more like a reduction, and I found myself reaching for my water glass more often than not. The beef was cooked exactly as I had wanted it (medium), and there was not a piece of it left on the plate; it had been butchered to eliminate those fatty outer bits I hate so much.
I decided to go with the peach cobbler with vanilla/blueberry ice cream for dessert. Served in a tart dish, I thought the peaches were nice, not too sweet. But there was a lot more liquid in it than I had expected, and it was so hot when I got it that I asphyxiated on the crumble topping and started hacking like a choke victim right there at my table. After about 5 minutes of this, not a single person had checked on me, and I continued to eat my dessert through teary eyes. (I wasn't crying, people. That's what happens when you asphyxiate on crumbles. Duh.) I couldn't really taste any blueberry in the ice cream either, but I still liked it, even though the contrast of the hot cobbler to the cold ice cream made my sensitive teeth scream in agony. I guess you could say that it wasn't the most successful dessert experience I've ever had.
Oh, one more thing. Did you ever have the bread basket at Zola? It comes with a little butter dish with what I think it roasted crystallized garlic on the top of it that looks like raw sugar, and their flatbread is amazing!! Too bad Jeffrey never brought me my bread. Sad face.
So usually, Zola gets a 4.5 out of 5, but this time around, I can only give it 3 noms. But I still love you, Zola. See you at winter Restaurant Week 2011!


Tuesday, August 24


This just makes me happy! And kinda of hungry for some wings. Hmmm...

Going Rogue

I was craving a burger a few days ago. And I mean a serious craving; I had watched a Guy Fieri Triple-D marathon on the Food Network, and as anyone who has ever seen one of these episodes can attest, it makes any healthy life choices you may have made recently fly right out of the window in favor of a meal that would make you slap your mother. So you can imagine my rabid need for meat on bread after watching hours of this show.
So I Yelp a few places in the area (all within biking distance, of course), and decide upon Rogue States, a new-ish burger joint on Connecticut Ave. in the S. Dupont area. (Side note: I'm not one of those people that uses Yelp to make all of my dietary decisions, but I constantly need reminders of what exactly is out there for me. Think of it more as a virtual Yellow Pages in my case.)
The Burger.
Their burgers start out at $7 each, and they have several different flavors, all cheekily named things like Now & Zen (asian-inspired flavors), Curried Away (an Indian take on the American classic), and my choice, the Ciao Down (Italian flavors of garlic, tomato and yum basil). As expected their French version (Pardon My French) is an extra $3, due to the addition of black truffle oil to the meat. They have two of their burgers available in turkey form if you prefer to avoid the red meat as well, the Rogue State house recipe burger and the Square One (simply salt and pepper). It comes with your standard veggie toppings, or the LTOP as I like to call it, and cheese, shrooms, cooked onion and bacon are also available for an extra charge. Sides are simple - fries, either in standard or sweet potato form. I'm not a fan of the sweet potato fry, so I get the regular fries and a soda. They give you two options on the menu for the temp of your burger, pink or no pink. OK, Rogue States, you guys are totally irreverent and cool, but I'm just going to go ahead and get my burger cooked medium. With provolone cheese and grilled onions too, please.
They give you a little numbered card after you order, and you pretty much just find your spot and sit down. I keep my ears open for my number, but it turns out they bring the food to you. Nice!
The burger comes loosely wrapped in foil, the fries a la boardwalk in a paper cup, but still much thicker than your standard boardwalk fries, but not quite steak fries size. They were awesome fries. I've heard people complain that they don't give you enough fries with an order, but they're only $2.50 ferchrissakes, and it's plenty of food. People are just gluttons these days
The burger was great. Thick, plenty of flavor (I could smell the basil, it was like heaven), and the bread - oh dear God, the bread was a brioche roll. How did they know? The meat itself was very clean, not greasy at all, but juicy. They made sure to put enough cheese on it so you could actually taste it (one of my biggest peeves with burger places is they always undercheese. Such a faux pas).
Here's what I didn't like: their aioli sauces. There was nothing about those mayos that I could not have put together in less than a minute at home. Old Bay aioli is just that - some seasoning stirred into an already prepped mayo. The wasabi aioli had almost no kick at all, and coming from a girl who needs a big glass of milk beside her for mild wings, that is saying a lot. The chipotle mayo was OK, also needed more flavor. My suggestion: make the mayo yourself, and make sure to blend the Old Bay so it's not grainy. Add MORE wasabi, MORE chipotle pepper to the aiolis. Flavor is a good thing, and right now, Rogue States may be erring on the safe side with their sauces. So not the way to go Rogue.
Will I go back to Rogue States? Absolutely. But I do still have Ray's and BGR on my list of places to go, so it may not be for a little while. Unless, of course, it's 4 a.m. and I just have to get my beef fix. I'm going to give Rogue States 3 out of 5 noms.