Hidden Gems

You know the drill: we open every write-up about a taqueria talking about what a tough time we’ve had finding good Mexican food in the DC area.  Since we started, we’ve received a couple of good recommendations, and we’ve been fortunate enough to find a few winners on our own.  At this point, I may be willing to concede that we were looking in the wrong places to begin with.

From now until April 1st, we know exactly where to look for by-the-book tacos in an unexpected setting: Tacos Impala.  This pop-up taco stand has taken up residency in the Philadelphia Water Ice Company’s digs at 1204 H Street, NE, and they’ll be turning out the tortillas for another two months.  If you miss out, you have only yourself to blame.

Everything about this classic street food is handmade fresh on a daily basis, from the corn tortillas to the chopped radish, onion and cilantro that make up the only available toppings.  Even the two sauce options – a green, tomatillo-based salsa verde and the milder red ‘Sauce Impala’ using guajillos – are made from scratch.  They make ingredient runs to the Florida Market six days a week.  And they show a deft hand when it comes to spicing the meats and beans that fill those homemade tortillas.

The story on what brings these tasty tacos to H Street after the jump. (more…)

When a restaurant routinely appears among the top 20 of Washingtonian’s best restaurant lists,  it can hardly be called “under the radar.”  Even so, it seems like 2941 frequently fades into the background when DC diners are thinking about places to celebrate a special occasion with a high-end meal.  We’ve had a few in-the-know friends recommend it, but it just doesn’t come up among suggestions as often as you might expect.

from 2941 website

Maybe it’s the location – 2941 is just inside the Beltway in the Falls Church/Tysons Corner/Mclean area.  It’s not Metro accessible, and it’s even off the beaten path relative to most of what you think of when you think of Tysons.  But it’s precisely that remove that made 2941 a great choice for a recent birthday dinner.

The setting feels like a rural retreat once you get past the fact that it’s located inside an office building.  Couple that with attentive, helpful service and a tasting menu that is changing almost constantly to reflect the season’s bounty and you’ve got the makings of a fuss-free gourmet getaway.

More on the food and everything else that makes 2941 such a good time after the jump. (more…)

Jennifer Weiner, an insanely talented and successful novelist, once described her daily writing routine: A nanny comes to her home in Philadelphia every day to watch her daughter while Weiner walks around the corner to her favorite coffeeshop to write for about 4 straight hours. End workday. As soon as I heard her describe this my head snapped up and I said to myself “that’s what I want.” There is a lot implied with this type of workday. First of all, she’s successful enough to write full time, not squeeze it around a 40+ hour desk jockey work week like most writers I know. Secondly, she can afford regular help based on her writing income. And, perhaps most notable to food and coffee devotees, she lives within walking distance of a coffeeshop that is awesome enough to draw her in every single day.

Regardless of one’s career aspirations, that third piece really hits home for a lot of us.  An area isn’t a neighborhood unless there is a destination-worthy coffeehouse nestled around some corner.  I challenge you to name a great neighborhood in DC that doesn’t have a coffee shop of pride. Eastern Market? Peregrine. Clarendon? Northside Social. DuPont? Teaism. H St NE? Take your pick of Sidamo, Sova, or Ebenezers.

Lately we’ve been exploring what other neighborhoods have to offer so no matter where you go, you’ll be able to caffeinate yourself at a moment’s notice.

photo courtesy of The V Word

Tryst – Adam’s Morgan
Let me hook my thumbs into my suspenders and remind you that back in myyyy day, Tryst was just about the only coffee/lounge game in town unless you considered Starbucks or its cousins an option. Tryst is the grandaddy of the DC coffeehouse scene. Like a hipster church, you can mark your weekly calendar by the Sunday morning gathering of young urbanites sipping coffee and enjoying a pastry along with their free wi-fi. Some of them may have even been there the previous evening, when Tryst turns from Friends-style coffehouse to casual lounge with cocktails and light food on the menu. Service can struggle at times – not surprising considering the ebb and flow of the crowd – but Tryst continues to serve as a happy starting point for many an epic night out in Adam’s Morgan.
Tryst on Urbanspoon

Three more coffeehouses after the jump. (more…)

Maybe it’s our status as a tourist destination.  Or maybe it’s a question of smart use of existing resources.  Whatever the reason, Washington has an abundance of surprisingly good restaurants that just happen to be located in hotels.  CityZen, Blue Duck Tavern, Corduroy’s first incarnation: all technically hotel restaurants.  Even some of the biggest names to arrive on the scene in recent memory (BourbonSteak, WestEnd Bistro, Adour) are situated in high-end hotels.

Even among all these standouts, we remain consistently impressed with the restaurants attached to Kimpton hotels in the area.  We’ve made no secret of our deep, abiding love for Poste, and we’ve had positive experiences at Urbana, Brabo, Bistro Bis and Firefly.  In each case the restaurant’s ambience makes it very easy to forget that there’s a hotel here, as well…it just feels like another dining destination.  It’s not until the bill comes and that “charge it to my room” option appears that we’re reminded of the connection.

Image from Morrison House website

A few weeks ago we learned that that’s not the case at every Kimpton restaurant, when we had the opportunity to check out the Grille at Morrison House.  As an incentive to register for the Modern Gentleman series they held last year, Morrison House offered participants a complimentary dinner for two (to show off what you’ve learned).  All that’s to say that we may have had a less than representative dining experience, though it had nothing to do with our status as bloggers.

The kind of meal we wish we could get from room service after the jump.


Much like Magellan, the limits of my horizon continue to expand before me. Saturday’s expedition took Mike and me to a busy strip mall in Annandale, VA. If you had asked me last year where Annandale was, I probably would have blinked at you a moment before answering “I dunno. Probably somewhere near Manassass or Hay Market or one of those.” “Those” being far away sounding suburbs I’d never bothered to visit unless they were a pit stop on the way to IAD or VA wine country. You know. Drive over country. Regardless, we’re turning over a new leaf at Capital Spice and this particular leaf is named IndAroma.

When we walked in on an early weekend afternoon, the bright, casual space was filled with young families and a large table of Indian aunties happily chatting away the afternoon. We were intrigued by this new bakery’s injection of Indian flavors into continental staples, manifesting itself into menu items like mango tiramisu. Traditional French pastries were also on hand as was a fun, light lunch menu option including Indian-influenced paninis and an entire section for chaats (snack plates that veer toward savory flavors).    

In the end, we couldn’t resist grabbinng some classic Indian flavors. I have never met a somasa I didn’t like (the same goes for mimosas, oddly) and IndAroma’s samosas kept the trend alive. Their golden, crackling exterior crisped and crumbled into warm potato-pea-spicy goodness inside. We paired these with generous portions of rich mango lassie. 

Although we were sated with our small lunch, we wanted to take a piece of IndAroma home with us. All of IndAroma’s pastries and baked goods are made in house, including a healthy selection of quickbread cakes (fuit, lemon, and plum), croissants, and cookies.  Aha! I knew a sweet tooth exploration opportunity when I saw one. We were invited to dinner with friends that evening and were slated to bring dessert.

I asked a member of the IndAroma staff which of the cookie selections were the most traditional Indian treats and she led me to nankatai – a rounded and puffed cookie that somehow managed to be dense and airy in a single bite. The cookie has slight flavors of cardamom and (perhaps?) the lightest touch of saffron. Wanting to bring a variety of options to dinner, we also grabbed a box of salted shortbread cookies and pistachio cookie squares. The entire plate was a hit that evening and I don’t think it was just the ghee talking.

6548 C Little River Tpke
Alexandria, VA 22312
IndAroma on Urbanspoon

DC is a food city worth its ice-melting salt but there are some missing pieces in our flawless plan. We listed out some destinations we wish we could move part and parcel into our fair capital. But the real question is, what restaurants do you wish would move to DC? Share the wealth.

Tartine (San Francisco) – I have long lamented the state of bakeries in the DC area. While we have a few noteworthy destinations, I have yet to come across a single bakery and cafe that suits all my needs. And this is no diva list. My needs are simple. I want a bakery that can make a killer croissant  and bad ass espresso in the same building. I want an organic feeling cafe where I can sit down and enjoy both of these masterpieces along with a book or across the table from a good friend. Tartine has mastered this equation. I wish they would bring it this way. I’ll even help them scout neighborhoods.

Hot Doug’s (Chicago) – DC is a one hot dog kind of town. Bless our loyalty but we are Ben’s bitches. I’d like to see Hot Doug’s, a Chicago hot dog institution, set up shop and give Ben’s a run for its money. Sure Hot Doug’s can’t touch Ben’s when it comes to DC history and culture. But how about a quality dog with creative, well-executed toppings? Feeling fancy? Try one of Doug’s a dogs topped with foie gras or sauternes duck sausage topped with truffle aioli, foie mousse and sel gris. Even if you are a classicist, at Hot Doug’s the dogs have a satisfying snap, the toppings are on point, and the prices are right. Please visit, Doug. DC needs you.

Casa Bonita (Denver) – I’ll level with you. The food, it is terrible. Mostly mass produced Mexican from a conveyor belt. The prices are ridiculous for the quality. I’m sure if there were actual windows or if the lights were ever turned all the way up I’d find the whole restaurant to be a mess of sticky children’s birthday party filth. But I also think DC children and DC’s young at heart would be a happier bunch if Denver’s infamous La Casa Bonita were in our town. What’s a few overpriced sopapillas when your restaurant has cliff divers? And a video arcade cave? And one of those old timey sepia photo booths where it looks like you took your family to the wild, wild west and your wife and daughter are common saloon whores? Even South Park opined the pleasures of Casa Bonita. I mean, how do birthday parties in DC survive without this place?

Casa Bonita
Casa Bonita on Urbanspoon

Three more holes in DC’s foodie heart after the jump. (more…)

When storms like SnoMageddon hit DC, communities emerge. Few of us escaped those powdery weekends unscathed and without social stories. Twenty-something transplants may have found themselves cross-country skiing to a friend’s place with a case of beer to toast the snow in style. More settled residents emerged to check on elderly neighbors and shovel out pathways. Communities are a tricky thing. What defines one? How do you know if you live in a community versus a random collection of homes? One real estate guru opined that a true livable neighborhood is any place you can be served breakfast within walking distance of your front door.  For many DCers, that walkable breakfast is replaced with a caffeinated beverage from a local purveyor.  

Residents of the H St corridor have three coffee options just steps from their stoop: the delightful Ethiopian Sidamo, the true coffeehouse (with booze!) Sova, and the unassuming corner stop Ebenezers. Operating within a bean’s throw from Union Station metro on 2nd and F St NE, Ebenezers has been pouring  fair trade coffee to local residents since 2006. 

Ebeneezers is the longest tenured of the H St trinity coffee shops  and receives the least attention. Perhaps local beanheads, many of whom may not have been around in the pre-H St-is-a-hip-place days, take it for granted as the first coffeehouse stake in the ground. What it lacks in Sova’s living room cool or Sidamo’s everybody knows your name vibe in makes up for in gales of natural light and friendly service. 

Patrons mirror the neighborhood demo: mostly 20something. Mostly professional. Dogs are more common than strollers. On warm summer evenings (remember those?), friends run into eachother on the generous front patios while DC’s dedicated workaholics continue to stream by from Union Station on their way home. Sunday morning sippers may be surprised to hear worship services booming from the basement: Ebeneezers is run by a local church. Agnostics needn’t fear; Ebenezers isn’t a proselytizing beard. I like to think of it as a bonus that my morning coffee will be served by a fresh-faced barista who woke up hangover-free that morning, unlike other favorite caffeine haunts (cough::Peregrine::cough).

Ebenezers Coffeehouse
201 F St NE
Washington, DC 20002
Ebenezers Coffeehouse on Urbanspoon

A few weeks ago I coldly abandoned Mike in DC for a quick girls’ getaway in San Francisco with two great friends BabeBQ and The Librarian. It was the first visit to San Francisco for both of them. Giving the uninitiated a tour of my favorite city is no small feat. Type A geeks like me don’t just wing it. We spend weeks plotting out itineraries, checking lists, creating back up plans for unbearably rainy weather.  Touristy or not, some activities can’t be ignored for first-timers. I wanted to be sure we tried a few more insider options, too. (Sure the cable cars are nice but did you know you can ride an 1930s Italian streetcar into the Castro?)

This philosophy went double for food. I knew certain cozy homeruns would make our agenda, namely Cha Cha Cha’s and Crepes on Cole which BabeBQ declared “the perfect neighborhood breakfast spot.” Except I didn’t want to limit our palates to tried and true favorites. I was ready for a little strange on the menu.

Acme Bread Company at the Ferry Building
No food sojurn to San Francisco is complete without paying homage to the Ferry Building. What was once a pass-through warehouse for tourists heading to Sausalito and commuters going home to Marin County is now a delicious destination. The building hosts San Francisco staples Cowgirl Creamery and the Slanted Door as well as less known options like Boccalone Salumeri (boasting “tasty salted pig parts”) and Far West Funghi, a must-visit for any mushroom lover.

Taking advantage of our DC-based internal clocks, BabeBQ and I took an early morning walk over to the Ferry Building for breakfast. We wandered through the vendor hallway, taking in the options as proprieters rattled their doors open. In the end, we were both drawn to the same thing: freshly baked bread from Acme Bread Company. The Acme Bread Compnay is a Berekley-based bread institution in the Bay Area, frequently credited for leading the artisinal bread revolution. The Ferry Building outpost carries the full selection of Acme bread and we lingered over baguettes, croissants and other yeasty delicacies before settling on a perfect small round of sourdough bread. We paired our loaves with ruby-red, sweet organic strawberries from Farm Fresh to You, a gourmet grocery store that seems tailor-made for yuppie picnic baskets, and found a bench outside in the early morning mist.

The bread, baked with a golden, crispy crust and pliant, still-warm, tangy white middle, was perhaps the single best way to start a vacation day. It was amazing we were civilized enough to eat with our hands rather than dive face first into the world’s best comfort food. We tore into our breakfast as rush hour approached and commuters streamed past us, fresh off ferries from Marin County. “You know,” BabeBQ said between bites, “I always see people having a leisurely breakfast or coffee on a weekday and wonder who they are and why they aren’t headed into work like me. It’s nice to be on this side for a change.” I couldn’t have agreed more. 

Acme Bread Company
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
Acme Bread Company on Urbanspoon

After the jump: Dim sum in Chinatown, Italian in North Beach, and what Mike was most jealous he missed. (more…)

Each year, the release of Washingtonian’s annual 100 Best Restaurants issue is a reminder of just how many worthwhile ways there are to avoid cooking at home in DC.  We’re still in awe of From Komi to Marvin’s attempt to work her way through the entirety of the 2009 list in a year (she’s got until February 8th to finish, and we’re definitely rooting for her). Here at Capital Spice, on the other hand, we tend to measure ourselves against the list over the course of our dining careers – as opposed to one season – and we try to check off a few more of the ‘bests’ each year.

We’ve only been writing here since 2008, but our Washington restaurant experiences go back quite a bit further than that (more than a decade for Mike).  As a result, there are a number of perennial favorites on the list that we haven’t talked about.  We don’t feel comfortable writing about a restaurant we haven’t visited in years; even if we could describe the meal with perfect recall, there are too many things that could have changed since our experience.

But that leaves us with that classic dilemma that every diner faces each time they go out to eat: Do you go back to a place where you had a positive experience, or do you spend your dining dollars trying something new and exciting?

For Elizabeth’s birthday this year, I decided to take her to Corduroy, one of those restaurants that had always stuck with us as a memorable dining experience.  It was a gamble; even though Chef Tom Power* is widely praised for his creativity and his steady hand with updated classics, you just don’t hear enough about it to keep Corduroy at the top of the “must visit” list.  But I had it all planned out – first we’d do dinner on 9th Street, then we’d head over to a show in the Warehouse Theatre and cap off the evening with libations at The Passenger.

And then came SnOMG.  The Snowpocalypse socked us in and kept us from Corduroy (though the intrepid staff actually braved the weather to show up and put on a dinner service for braver souls than us).  The best laid plans…

Once we did get to the restaurant later in the week, Chef Power wasted no time showing us why Corduroy was a very good choice, indeed. (more…)

Photo from dc.metromix.com

A few months ago, we wrote about one of our consistent favorites in Penn Quarter, PS 7’s.  We praised Chef Peter Smith’s approach to his menu and his commitment to using the best ingredients available to make inventive dishes with satisfying, complex flavors.  We mentioned Gina Chersevani’s cocktails in passing, but we largely focused on the meal.

For a lot of guests at PS 7’s, that’s the way they experience the menu.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  A few of our fellow bloggers (as well as the not-long-for-DC Daily Candy) have written about a way to have your cake and eat it too, in a manner of speaking.  If you know to order it, you can actually enjoy a seven-course tasting menu that comes paired with seven of Gina’s amazing cocktails in the lounge.

Don’t expect to see a menu (they abandoned the mysterious wax-sealed menus that the guys at the Scofflaw’s Den experienced), but do come prepared to eat and drink well.

How well?  Find out after the jump. (more…)

Next Page »