Okay, first things first: do you have any idea how tough it was not to make a “Domo arrigato” pun on robatayaki or to rhyme “Kushi” and “sushi” in the title?  Anyone who knows me knows that this is either an indication that I’m growing as a person or a case of me being paralyzed by too many options.  I’m guessing the latter.

In any event, I’ve been looking forward to writing about Kushi since I found myself near the Convention Center at lunchtime a few weeks ago.  The restaurant bills itself as an izakaya, a “sit-down sake shop.”  In practical terms, it’s a full-service Japanese restaurant that offers sushi, grilled and skewered entrees and an impressive beverage menu.

That diversity allows for a wide range of experiences depending on what you’re in the mood for.  Looking for a few tender, savory skewers or charcoal grilled items to tame your appetite?  Pull up a stool at the first counter, where you can watch them prepared and cooked before your eyes.  Eager for some a la carte sushi?  There’s a second counter at the back of the shop for that.  And there’s table seating throughout the space if you want a little of both and some more besides.

I walked in by myself for lunch, and I was invited to grab a seat at the sushi counter.  Sushi sounded good (and looked better), but a quick read through the lunchtime menu convinced me to try a trio of skewers.  The combination of price and selection was just too tempting to resist.

After the jump, a rundown on the robatayaki and the details on Kushi’s newest omakase offerings. (more…)

While the snow was still on the ground and a chill was still in the air, we got a craving for something warm and inviting.  Something that would help us forget the DC winter and would bring to mind sunnier climates.  We wanted Mexican.

Thankfully, our good friend Coffee Shop Girl has heard us complain on multiple occasions about our failure to find good (and authentic) Mexican food in Washington.  She had already tried to steer us toward the best horchata in town, resulting in our visit to Taqueria Distrito Federal.  Her next suggestion was the Oaxacan cuisine at the appropriately-named Casa Oaxaca in Adams Morgan.  So we bundled up and made plans to meet her and her boyfriend to check it out.

I knew we were in for a good time when we arrived and settled in with drinks.  The menu offered more than a dozen flavors that could be worked into your choice of margaritas, mojitos or martinis, including some more exotic flavors like tamarind, prickly pear and hibiscus.  I immediately gravitated toward the refreshing fizz of a michelada, and Elizabeth put their horchata to the test.

We quickly dispatched the small, black bean tortas that were sent out as an amuse bouche, and got ready for a saucy adventure.  Details and dishes after the jump. (more…)

man v foodThere are some food-focused TV shows we love, like Top Chef, No Reservations, and America’s Test Kitchen.  And there are others whose premise we’re not entirely on board with…Bizarre Foods, I’m looking at you.

Until recently, Man versus Food fell squarely into that second category.  There was something about the idea of a guy repeatedly taking on “big eater” type challenges that seemed unnecessary at best and unhealthy at worst.

But then I actually bothered to watch an episode or two (okay, it may have been a marathon) and found a show that was part travelogue, part comedy…and part “big eater” challenge.  It was more than I had guessed it would be, and I found myself liking host Adam Richman’s enthusiasm, humor and outsized personality.  He was more than just a host; he came across as a cheerleader for wherever he was visiting.

RichmanIn each episode, Richman takes viewers to a couple of honest-to-goodness local establishments before taking on his challenge.  It may be a lunch counter or a burger joint, but it’s always the kind of place that locals hate to see revealed on national television.

And then I heard Man v. Food would be filming in DC – and in our neighborhood, no less!  The epsiode aired last night, and we tuned in to see a couple of Washington’s landmark dining spots.

Details on the episode and highlights from Ben’s Chili Bowl and Horace & Dickies after the jump. (more…)

In a neighborhood flattened by foot traffic, a new restaurant with an accessible menu is always going to be a welcome addition. At the Columbia Firehouse, the latest installment from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (who also brought Rustico and Tallulah to grateful NoVA neighborhoods), delivering elevated but recognizable food in a friendly setting is what they do best.

IMG_8971This decree was apparent when Mike and I arrived to meet my parents who were not only seated but already enjoying a steaming bowl of mussels they spotted on the menu and just couldn’t wait to try. Their instincts were spot on: the juicy, briny mussels were served with a generous helping of thick cut bacon, arugula, and oven-dried tomatoes, a dish that pushes you long past any “just one taste” intentions. The broth was rich, complex, and buttery; the kind that makes you ask for extra bread to mop up all the flavor. Be careful of this bread by the way. It looks innocent but with a crust bathed in salt and butter, it’s far too easy to suddenly inhale it. In no time Mike and I were licking stray broth from our fingertips and thinking bashfully about opening the menu for our actual orders. 

We were helped along by our criminally adorable waitress Erim, who guided us with cheer. We swayed between the cornmeal crusted oysters and blue-crab hush puppies before deciding on the ‘pups.  Arriving piping hot with a crispy golden crust, the hush puppies were rich on the inside and complemented nicely by a dollop of savory pepper mustard. IMG_8974

The slow-roasted Amish chicken “is actually Amish,” Erim assured my father in her uncannily Bart Simpson-like voice, “from a farm in Pennsylvania.” In just the few weeks since the restaurant opened, the chicken quickly rose to most popular dish status.  This is not a meal for a shrinking appetite. The portion is generous, served with a leg, thigh, and a breast, alongside a healthy side of cornbread stuffing and andouille sausage: a citified country comfort meal.

I couldn’t resist another order of mussels, this time going for a kettle with tasso ham, red-pepper flakes, garlic, and lager. With ingredients like that, how could it be wrong? Although the broth was a touch thinner (my fault: I asked the kitchen to scale back on butter this time) the flavors still came alive with a rich, deep zest. 

More food and dessert after the jump! (more…)

IMG_8798Sure, DC Restaurant Week is just around the corner, but we couldn’t wait.  So when we heard that Bethesda-Chevy Chase Restaurant Week was taking place last week, we decided to check out one of the participating restaurants that had come highly recommended: Grapeseed American Bistro and Wine Bar.  It didn’t disappoint.

As it turns out, Grapeseed is extending their Restaurant Week special through August 9th.  For those of us living in DC, it’s a great excuse to head up to Bethesda and check them out.  For those of you who live in the area, it’s an opportunity to enjoy some of the best of what your local wine bar has to offer at a substantial discount.  In short, this is exactly the kind of Restaurant Week experience we wish more participants would deliver.

A word of caution, though: Grapeseed isn’t out to impress you with their decor.  There’s little to Grapeseed’s exterior that hints at the depth of its wine list or the strength of its cuisine.  Walking in the front door, the same can be said of the host stand and the main dining room (which can get rather noisy during busy times).  It isn’t until you walk down the hallway past the row of cozy two-top booths and the Wine Room that you get a sense of refinement and quality.

IMG_8814Even so, our eyes lit up when we were seated and handed the wine list.  Boasting 500 selections, including almost a hundred by the glass and/or the ‘taste’ (half glass), this was a list to be taken seriously.  I noticed a few of our favorites as I flipped through the pages and smiled at the fact that my favorite reds (Zinfandels) rated their own section of the list.  But we were there for dinner, so we limited ourselves to the wines by the glass – a Zinfandel for me (anticipating big flavors) and a Cava for Elizabeth (what doesn’t go with sparkling wine?).

We were off to a good start, but we were getting a bit hungry.  And that’s when they hit us with their secret weapon…a dip of roasted tomatoes and garlic in olive oil that turned decent bread into a craveable pre-appetizer.  Talk about a pleasant surprise!  A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou sounds great; just make sure you remember the dip for the bread.  Already impressive, and we hadn’t even placed our orders yet.

A menu paired to wine (instead of vice-versa) and vegetarian options to make a carnivore reconsider after the jump. (more…)

Bloody Mary with Celery FoamAs a twirtysomething, I’ve noticed brunch has become the new Saturday night. Raucous girls’ nights in Adams Morgan are replaced with cozy dates or -for some – hanging with the kids. Naturally the next best thing to a boozy Saturday night is a stiff Bloody Mary on a Sunday morning.  And what better Bloody Mary to sip than a Jill Zimorski version of the classic Bloody Mary with tomato water and celery foam? 

The Cafe Atlantico Latino Dim Sum brunch has been on our must-try list for far too long. The weather was warm, our weekend was open and it was time to do something about it. We were joined at brunch by Los Alemanes and their adorable boy Lucas.  

We’d been lucky repeat visitors at Andres’ MiniBar upstairs and couldn’t wait to try his unique take on dim sum, a traditional Chinese breakfast. We were not disappointed.  Brunch at Atlantico is offered a la carte, with a selection of roughly 25 small plates that can be mixed and matched to create your ideal meal.  But they also offer a pair of tasting menus that put your choices in the hands of the chefs for $35 (14 dishes) or $25 (12 vegetarian dishes) and allow you to experience a broader range of tastes in one sitting.  We couldn’t help ourselves – we went for the tasting.

Oyster with Mango Lime OilThe chefs wasted no time getting us started.  Out came one of the most intensely flavorful bites I have ever enjoyed at a brunch: a small, silky kushi oyster topped with a sweet mango puree and a few snippets of chive.  We exchanged looks around the table and knew that we were all thinking the same thing: Wow.  With an opening salvo like that, we couldn’t wait to see what would follow.

A play-by-play of the other thirteen dishes (and a detour for some tableside guacamole) after the jump. (more…)

urban-exterior

Being the barbecue snob purist that I am, I’ve frequently found myself giving dismissive answers to friends’ questions about where to find good ‘cue in Washington.  Hell…I’ve even said as much here at Capital Spice.  But a few months back the City Paper’s Tim Carman spread the word that Rockville’s Urban Bar-B-Que had upgraded their smoker and that their brisket was much improved for the change.  I had to check it out.

Sure, Urban’s smoked meats are done in the Texas style, so they were bound to be a bit different than the heavily sauced ribs I’ve come to know and love in Kansas City.  But I was eager to see what their new XLR-600 Southern Pride smoker was turning out, so I joined up with Carman and a handful of other carnivores for a taste test.  urban-brisketAnd since there are limits to how much meat even the most dedicated barbecue enthusiast can order in one sitting, I invited Nell to join me so we could try a broader range of items.

So how was it?  On the whole, this was some of the best I’ve had in DC…but there were definitely some missteps in the mix, as well.

Details on Urban’s cooking method, tasty meats and “Ugly Bits” after the jump. (more…)