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About Mr.Joel

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  • Interests
    Scribe, friand, bon vivant.
  • Location
    Silver Spring
  1. Any rumors about where Chef Matamoros is going to land? I'm more interested in what he does next than in what happens at 8407, even though I can just about see it from my front door.
  2. Turns out Chang was in Williamsburg where he is opening a new restaurant this week -- in addition to the Richmond (Glen Allen) location we visited. Protege Chef Wong was on hand and the dinner wowed. We were advised by phone to arrive right at 5 pm to get a table. Traffic made that impossible. At about 7:15 we found the place in its strip mall home. People were waiting. A Russian hostess with bleached hair was giving out slips of hand-numbered paper and refusing to guess how long the wait might be. We pulled 26 and they were on table 15 at the time. Turnover looked steady, though, so we decided to wait and see. Good thing we did: several groups despaired and left, and our number got called within about 20 minutes. DC got a glass of decent Oregon pinot gris. I bent to tradition and ordered Tsing Tao. Our punky/groovy waitress (white) asked us if we like spicy food. Yes. So she told us not to be afraid of the chili peppers on the menu, which run up to 3 chilis. Good advice. We had one two-chili dish and several onesies and none were unreasonably scorching, given that I did not actually ingest the loose peppers. As usual we chose the all-appetizer journey, including one from the "Autumn Special" menu. SCALLION BUBBLE PANCAKE: The Globular Puff! Warm and light and bready with an extremely subtle whiff of scallion. Could have maybe used some actual chunks of veggie. The soft, thin pancake tore into handy foldable chunks for dipping. Delicious sauce reminded me of Indian food: buttery and yellow with spices-- turmeric? HOT AND NUMBING DRY BEEF: The beef itself is jerky-like flakes, coated with a thin sweet glaze and tossed with sesame seeds. Flavor starts salty and sweet and finishes with a long mild burn. The "ma-la" numbing spice effect did not come through much. Tasty though. SZECHUAN DAN DAN NOODLE WITH PORK: DC's favorite. Bears almost no relation to the dan dan I'm used to from other places. Thin noodles in a delightfully greasy yet light sauce combining peppery spice with the smoky oil of the finely-ground pork. Plus peanuts. CILANTRO FISH ROLL: The fish is combined with a light batter (egg? tofu?) into a log, then sliced on the bias and fried. Served with piles of chopped cilantro and at least three kinds of chopped peppers, from sweet red to mysterious little green clippings with serious heat. The fish roll had the strongest ma-la charge and really set the tongue tingling. This version was on the Autumn Special menu; something similar is listed among the regular menu's appetizers. Not sure what's different. CRISPY PORK BELLY: My favorite, of course. Delicately batter-fried, meltingly soft meat spilling out of a cornucopia basket with scallions, cilantro, and more peppers. Slow ma-la afterburn. Total for two people, at one drink each: $54 plus tip. More than worth both the price and the detour. EDIT: Oops -- Should this be moved to a review thread?
  3. Dining at Peter Chang China Cafe tonight. Called ahead and the man himself will not be at the helm, which is slightly disappointing. But I'm not going to drive by on Rte 64 and not make a stop.
  4. I don't know about excessively hip, but what about Domku? Strange beers and strange foods, all pretty good; artsy setting; pool in back.
  5. Thanks for the responses. Of course, I run tabs at bars all the time, and if the server had said the magic words "Open a tab" instead of "Guarantee it," I might have gone along with better grace. Still, at the bar, I'm dealing directly with the bartender and he doesn't want to come out from behind the counter to find drunks who wander off and leave their bills. At a table, I'm paying with tips for the waiter to act on my behalf with the establishment and vice versa. I've never been asked to open a tab when sitting at a table before. Even moreso, when I close a bar tab, they give me the option of putting the charge on the credit card or paying in another way. In this case, when I went to pay up with cash in hand, the card had already been charged, apparently at the moment of ordering. That would explain why it took so long to pull a couple drinks. Interesting! That may well be true, but none of the staff I talked to knew it. I asked several employees, quite neutrally, how the unusual setup was working for them. Each grimaced in pain before trying to put on a boss-pleasing "everything is great!" smile. Another person I dealt with was downright hostile, probably from a long, frustrating string of customers "doing something wrong." People probably get upset when you hand them a little paper card which, if not handled correctly the first time, can cost them $50 for no food. Maybe Hill Country deserves another chance when less busy. If I do go back, I'll mention my previous experience to management. Still, I don't think I'm the only one who wanted to try the place and was prevented by, not only an unfamiliar system, but employees who can't explain it.
  6. Count me baffled. Went in last night with two people, hoping to eat bbq, drink beer, and see the music. I had never been in the place before and it was jammed. There was a guy giving out wristbands, a rapidly rotating group of people behind the cash register, and no sign of a stage. I got bounced between three people in two minutes, none of whom could explain the system to my comprehension. Finally I got a carefully-numbered card. Then the guy decided not to give me a wristband after all. Someone seated us downstairs where the stage is; someone else took my drink order and had to take my credit card with her to "guarantee it!" What, that I would pay for my drinks? Christ. Peering at the little card in the dim light, I made out eight-point type indicating various food by the pound. No sandwiches or platters or meals. Strange... So I went back upstairs, where there were at least three different queues to different counters. I saw people marking up their cards, so I tried to check off what we wanted so I could remember it when I got through the long line. When I finally got to what I assumed to be the main counter, the clerk said "You're doing something wrong! I do the marking. Now they're gonna charge you for all that." Well, yes, I assumed I would pay for my food... But he wouldn't take the card. OK what? I offered to get a blank one for him to mark. But heavens no, there was a sacred number on my card that would somehow wreck the system. He didn't offer me any solution but just kept repeating that "they" would have to charge me. At this point we had been at the restaurant for over twenty minutes, stood in two lines, gotten one round of drinks delivered very slowly with an insulting pre-authorization of my credit card, and had our quite expensive food order refused. I tipped the bartender a buck and we walked out. No BBQ could be that good. What am I missing?
  7. Opening Wednesday March 24. Restaurant to be called 8407. Bar, lounge with sofas, dining room, and private function room. Looking forward to this one!
  8. would rather spend money on meals than objects.

  9. I got a slightly different story, stating that it will be Nicaro that reopens in the former Luau Hut, under new owners, without mention of where Chef Matamoros will go in the meantime. The new place is slated for September, which of course in Restaurant Land could mean September, Spring 2010, or never.
  10. Went to Monocacy Crossing last night, two couples. We called for a reservation and had to wait on hold for a few minutes while they checked availability, which was slightly odd since the place was mostly empty when we arrived. The building, while isolated, is an attractive old house. The side-door entrance takes you through the bar, which was full of Friday night regulars. Possibly because it was almost 9 PM, there were only three or four tables in the dining rooms. Service was friendly but did contain a few long gaps despite the presence of many servers. The wine list of several pages offers decent variety and many options by the glass. Prices ran a bit high, as they did throughout the menu. We opted for a Napa pinot -- Carrefour Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir, 2005 -- about $50 for the bottle. The waitress highly recommended the fish special. I don't remember which fish because the prep did not appeal to any of us: wrapped in phyllo dough strips with a creamy tomato buerre blanc. We learned that white meatloaf is made with veal and turkey, but didn't bite on that one either. We shared two appetizers: "Spicy Pork Springroll with Asian Slaw" and "Mussels steamed with Chardonnay, Garlic, and Red Pepper." The single spring roll was the size of a burrito. The batter was delicate enough but the filling and slaw tasted exactly like a pulled pork BBQ sandwich. Nothing Asian about it. Strange, but apparently intentional, as the waitress cheerfully agreed with our opinion. The mussels came in an enormous pile, clean and fairly plump, though the broth was thin and had little of the promised garlic or peppery flavor. We had a basket of dense fresh bread, but I wasn't compelled to take more than a dip or two into the broth. Salads were nothing special. Vegetable of the day came with all entrees: Snow peas, nicely crisp. Someone was making free with black pepper, which worked OK with the peas but was too much for other sides. The "Lobster & Shrimp Pot Pie" landed on the table like a brick, or a Jared Diamond hardback. It was seriously the size of a small birthday cake, with lots of crust and shrimp in evidence. I didn't taste it but the diner didn't finish. "Carrot and Ginger Ravioli with Sautéed Greens and Sage-Brown Butter Vinaigrette": One of two vegetarian options. Good fresh pasta but far too much ginger, dominating rather than accenting the sweet carrots and mild sauce. "Low country BBQ Shrimp with Lobster Infused Cheese Grits": Again, the shrimp were plentiful, plump, and fresh, and not overcooked. The sauce was sweet but uninteresting, with no BBQ tang. Grits appeared successful. The rack of lamb special was the highlight. A generous plateful -- all eight lollipops -- came nicely pink and tender at the chef's recommend medium rare. A mound of risotto was creamy with just enough bite. Mushrooms had obviously participated in the cooking liquid as well as being mixed in, giving a rich, thorough flavor. The puddle of lamb jus was meaty and not too salty. By the time we got well into our he-man portions we were one of only two tables and started to get plenty of attention. They did not rush us in the slightest even though it was well past closing for the dining rooms. A manager type checked in and went through his wine recommendations for us. Three of us each got another glass. The five desserts on offer did not inspire, but we got one blueberry crisp parfait and one crème brulée. We considered but passed on a cheese plate: they had an English cheddar, a gorgonzola, and an Irish porter available. The men each had a glass of ruby port: a near-double pour, but it should have been decanted. Considerable sediment gathered in the glass, although it was not listed as "crusty." Everything was adequate and a few things were good. Portions, including pours, were huge. Ingredients were sufficiently fresh and treated with respect, especially seafood. Flavors tended to the bland and sugary, except for a lot of black pepper on the greens and the oddly excessive ginger in the ravioli. In sum, I think the restaurant aims for a conservative dining taste and probably hits the mark with most of its customers: plenty of food, well-cooked, and nothing too aggressive. The evening wasn't cheap, at $85 a person with only one bottle of wine and five individual drinks. I suspect you pay for the large portions, and perhaps for the dearth of similarly ambitious cooking nearby. Next time we go up that way we'll go to Volt, and pay a lot more for less food, and probably be happier. But you could do a lot worse than Monocacy Crossing, especially if you have less adventurous eaters along.
  11. Looking forward to it as well. I hope the parking works out. For those who don't know the location, it's at the intersection of two small, curvy roads that would not be ideal for staggering down on foot.
  12. As of Friday night, October 26, Nicaro is open. This is their website, currently a bit of an empty plate: http://www.nicarorestaurant.com We went on Saturday (last night), and here's a mini review. Menu scan attached. Background: Pedro Matamoros, formerly of Tabard Inn, is both chef and owner. He brought in the maitre d' from David Craig in Bethesda (Andy?). Also, fans of Jackie's waiter Rich Potter will now find him here. They just passed their last inspection this week. First impressions: the space is very nice. Indirect lighting, lots of glass in front, mirrors and candles. Artwork on the wall is unaggressive, serving as a background and not a focus. Apparently the pieces were done by a friend of the owners. Folks who remember the Rodeo will see a near-total transformation. A wall divides the low-key bar from the dining room; personally I'd rather be able to people-watch from one to the other, but there may have been architectural reasons as well as noise control. A short wine list is, appropriately, labeled "Starting wine list". (Sorry, no scan). Piper Sonoma is the one sparkling wine at present. We concentrated on appetizers, not being starving (and generally preferring apps anyway). I started with an oyster which was disappointing -- a little tough, lacking the explosive freshness of the best examples. Only $2 though. The terrine was quite good, framed in lardons and with a delicately-flavored deviled egg and a coarse-chopped persimmon "jam" that was nicely tart. Lobster fritters were so lightly fried as to seem almost greaseless and the flesh was tender. The accompanying aioli could have used more garlic, or to have more dill incorporated into the mix as well as garnishing the top. The pasta with lamb bolognese was excellent -- a creamy sauce with the richness of fine-ground lamb but no hint of gameyness. Just a half-a-handful of fresh thick noodles and a couple of pecornio shavings. This served as my entree, but wouldn't have been enough for that if we'd come in seriously hungry. The waiter recommended a chardonnay to accompany, which was fairly successful. SH got the crab cake entree. The cake was substantial, crunchy, and full of lump meat, and the corn flan complemented it well. The tarragon tartar sauce could overwhelm the crab, which was not spiced much, so go easy. Dessert offered four choices: creme brulee, cookies and ice cream, a chocolate bread pudding that the next table demolished down to the lickings, and the apple cobbler that SH got: a crunchy topping, and ice cream, over apples and peaches that were still crisp. If I have an overall criticism, it's that the kitchen is being too cautious with the seasonings. I seldom pick up the salt and pepper at a good restaurant but found my gaze drifting that way once or twice. Then again, I'm a fan of the piquant and bored by bland, and the cooks can be forgiven for easing into their recipes. For a restaurant that just opened the day before, it was quite a good performance. Nothing we ordered was conceived or executed with any glaring errors, only minor quibbles and those largely matters of taste. The staff was uniformly calm, professional, and knowledgeable. Everyone seemed glad to be there.
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