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La Casona, 11th & U Streets NW - Cerrada.


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So when I worked near Metro Center, I'd occasionally hit a restaurant I knew as Juanita's at 11th and K from time to time. Very inexpensive platters overflowing with Salvadoran specialties that may not have been the most healthful due to the abundance of cheesy goo, but boy they were mighty tasty. I hadn't gone there in a while and I don't even work in the area anymore, but then I read this article in the Washington Post that reminded me.

I didn't even think Juanita had moved and turns out now she's struggling up on U Street. Which is a shame because the margarita's mentioned in the column are very good and I agree that the food is tasty and cheap. At least it was a few year's ago. I'm planning on trying again this evening, although I fear it may become too crowded thanks to the article and the presence of the live music tonight. But I'm probably going to go on the early side and then hike over to drink at the bar at Cashion's. Anyone else interested?

(These last sentences are probably more appropriate for the Whim thread, but.....)

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This place sounds like it could be fodder for one of our $20 Tuesdays. I used to eat lunch at Los Planes de Renderos when it was at its former location, I seem to recall that they had this Thursday lunch special that my colleagues and I were fond of. I recall when I'd get back to my office from lunch, I'd swivel my chair so that my back was to the door, I'd put my feet up on the radiator and put a deposition transcript in my lap, to make it look like I was reading something while I took a post lunch nap. I thought the place just closed down, I had no idea it moved and changed its name.

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So we went for $20 Tuesday this week. Some thoughts are already posted over here.

The restaurant is one block from the U Street metro station, so it's really convenient to get to (unless you're never on the Green line) but it's only a 5 minute ride from Gallery Place, so.....

Bring your meager high school Spanish. Only Juanita seems to be fluent in English, which from time to time can be problematic servicewise. For example, everyone had a glass for the margaritas but me. I thought our server understood when I asked for one, but after a while I realized she didn't so I had to go up to get one.

I agree with the comment that the Margaritas were pretty weak. They're tasty, but weak. And for $26 a pitcher, that's not cool. Perhaps, for research purposes only, I will go back and see how many pitchers I can drink before I tip over. I will pass that knowledge along to you all and we can truly determine if $26 is a good or bad price!

Endless tortilla chips and salsa on the table. Very watery salsa but it had some really nice heat.

Anyway, we ordered a selection of appetizers: super nachos, chicherones con yuca, chicherones de pollo and a selection of pupusitas (one cheese, one pork, one beef). All were priced anywhere from $4-7 I recall. The chicherones con yuca were the best of the bunch. They were like these little mini T-bone pork chops that were INCREDIBLY tender and had a nice fruity, tangy flavor. The yuca were crispy outside and light and fluffy inside, like proper gnocchi. I was really impressed with this dish. To my taste, the pupusitas and the chicherones de pollo were pretty close to each other in quality. Light, doughy pancakes filled with...um...filling. Some tomato and lettuce on the side along with some sour cream, I recall. The chicherones de pollo were small boneless, skinless chunks of chicken with some great flavor from charring. Perhaps too dry. As for the nachos...don't bother.

Entrees all have stupid names. "We'll have five San Miguels, two Santa Anna's, one El Bolson, and do you have any Dos Equis?" And then, a half hour and two more weak margarita pitchers later, the food is delivered to the table and the server says in Spanish with her hands full of platters, "San Miguel? Santa Anna?" And I'm thinking..."How the fuck should I know? I ordered a steak. Just give me the freakin' steak and to hell with what the name is." (Another service aside here. She kept trying to foist these vegetarian platters on us that none of us ordered. mdt did a great job in shooing that stuff away. Good job, Mike!)

So there were 8 of us. I had the delmonico steak (or was it an El Camino?) smothered in onions and peppers. 12 and a half bucks. Eh. I mean it was flavorful due to the caribbean style marinade on it. The meat was kind of flimsy. But I kept saying to myself, I could get a steak ten times better for only twice the price at Ray's the Steaks. So if my math is correct, that means Ray's the Steaks is five times more valuable. (Too bad they're almost out of business.)

JG and, I think, dcfoodie ordered a roast chicken that I didn't taste. They can tell you what it was like. Everyone else ordered the porkchops which were, indeed, the real winners of the night. $10.50 and it was a heaping mound of two chops smothered with the same onion and pepper saute. I think there were significant size differences in the chops from plate to plate. They were very tender, juicy and packed with flavor. At least the one bite that I stole from my wife's plate was.

We skipped dessert and asked for the check, which was very slow in coming as the family seemed to be studying carefully what we ordered and how to add it up. It all got screwy with us when it finally arrived because we're looking at the numbers and it just didn't seem to add up to what it said on the bottom line. After several run throughs, we determined that the decimal point for the margaritas was in the wrong place and they were not $10.40 but, in fact, $104. Go figure.

So anyhow, with tax and tip we all got out of there for $40/person. Twice what $20 Tuesday is, but much of it had to do with the margaritas and the large selection of appetizers. $20 (ish) can be done if you go in and order one appy, the pork chops and a beer and you'll be very happy.

The pork chop platter is a great deal, folks. Give it a try. And for the record I just want to say that the decor and feel of the place reminded me of this joint I frequent in Montreal called Le Roi de Plateau. It's a Portuguese joint on Rue Rachel with prices similar to La Casona and which I highly recommend if you haven't been there before. Try their El Camino. You'll be glad you did.

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Everyone else ordered the porkchops which were, indeed, the real winners of the night.  $10.50 and it was a heaping mound of two chops smothered with the same onion and pepper saute. 

...

After several run throughs, we determined that the decimal point for the margaritas was in the wrong place and they were not $10.40 but, in fact, $104. 

And now you know how they can afford to serve a $10.50 pork chop platter! :P

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Went to La Casona again for dinner this past Monday. For the most part, my visit confirmed a lot of what we learned as the DR gang hit them for $20 Tuesday. For starters, we learned then that it might be better to plan on $30 for food, drink, tax and tip. That’s exactly what we left with on Monday.

Juanita must have been off that night. In fact most of the staff must have been off that night. The one dude who worked with us all evening spoke English quite well, so that’s one of the differences between visit 1 and visit 2. One thing that we all (6 of us) commented on that we loved was the music. As soon as we walked in, they turned on a boom box, or put coins in the jukebox or something. But it was all this 1940’s 1950’s latin big band style music. Ricky Ricardo and all that. We loved it. Add to that the sparse decor and I felt like we pulled into some urban streetside hole in the wall in Santo Domingo. (I think the music took away my prior Montreal recollection). There were no other customers when we went in (7PM) and when we left (after 9PM) only one other table was occupied. No other customers came that evening that we saw.

We started with the drink order. Passing up the pitchers of margaritas we had from visit 1, we opted instead for pitchers of sangria ($18 each). These were great. Very refreshing. Sweeter than what you’d find at Jaleo (I’ve ingested barrels of their stuff, hic) I think La Casona’s is much better. This is your best pitcher drink option there.

Starter-wise, we remembered that pork is the go-to meat at La Casona and we ordered a couple plates of the yucca con chicherones and the pupusitas. The pupusitas were exactly as written about earlier in this thread. The pork chops with the yucca were incredible. Wonderful seasoning, juicy, hot, smoky/charry flavor. Love ‘em. The yucca however were just downright wrong this go-round. No crispness and an almost raw center. Bad news. The problem, however, is that each dish (including the sangria) takes forever to come to your table. I think that’s probably because there’s only one person who’s making everything and it’s being made to order. From scratch. There is no pitcher of sangria waiting to have ice added. There is no pre-prepared yucca waiting to be finished. Sending that back would have meant a long time before we got replacement.

So, most of us got the San Miguel, which was the $10.50 pork chop platter smothered with onions and peppers. It also came with two halves of a sauteed banana on top. (I would have thought it was plantain, but it was much too sweet to be plantain. My plantain experience is not that extensive, so there could be a sweeter kind that I’m just not aware of.) This dish was weaker than I remember it in visit 1. The chops, while covered with a delicious, fruity/tangy sauce, were just way overdone and were missing that great grilled flavor that the appetizer counterparts have.

I didn’t taste anyone else’s orders, which included a sauteed shrimp platter, a chicken quesadilla and one of the Mexican combo platters. Everyone seemed to enjoy those plates. But the three of us with the pork chops seemed to agree that they were kinda lacking. Particularly my wife who had them on both visit 1 and visit 2.

I still will return to La Casona. I’m willing to bet that the issue was that Juanita was not there. I’ll probably call ahead next time to find out if she’s working on the evening I want to go. Apparently they have dancing and live latin jazz on Friday evenings.

But if Juanita’s there or not, if you’re going to La Casona, don’t expect a quick meal. You’ll be investing a good bit of time in there going from course to course. That means plenty of time to go swimming in the pitchers of sangria, of course!

Edited by CrescentFresh
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Greg and I went there on Friday. We had the pork chops and a pitcher of margaritas. The pork was good, the beans excellent (but I'm a bean lover). Also, every Friday they feature Joe Falero and DC's Latin Jazz All Stars. The band was fabulous, the kind of music that makes you happy and want to dance (and drink tequilla). Anyway, Juanita, the owner, brought us some sort of tequilla shooter and informed us that she is closing and this Friday is her last. :P May explain the lack of interest by the staff in your past visits. The new occupants are French, that's all she knew. Anyway, this Friday is expected to be a blast, according to Juanita. The band will be playing, starting at 6:30. Sounds like a party. We can't make it, unfortunately, but hoping some of you guys can and report back.

Cathy

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Greg and I went there on Friday.  We had the pork chops and a pitcher of margaritas.  The pork was good, the beans excellent (but I'm a bean lover).  Also, every Friday they feature Joe Falero and DC's Latin Jazz All Stars.  The band was fabulous, the kind of music that makes you happy and want to dance (and drink tequilla).  Anyway, Juanita, the owner, brought us some sort of tequilla shooter and informed us that she is closing and this Friday is her last.  :P   May explain the lack of interest by the staff in your past visits.  The new occupants are French, that's all she knew.  Anyway, this Friday is expected to be a blast, according to Juanita.  The band will be playing, starting at 6:30.  Sounds like a party.  We can't make it, unfortunately, but hoping some of you guys can and report back. 

Cathy

That sucks! So you're saying that this Friday is her last Friday in business? Or this Friday is her last day of business altogether?

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That sucks!  So you're saying that this Friday is her last Friday in business?  Or this Friday is her last day of business altogether?

Yes it does suck. Friday will be her last day in business altogether. She is thinking of returning to El Salvador.

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MoniqueDC and I arrived together, the first of our party on hand to both celebrate and mourn the final hours of La Casona. As we walked up the steps into the restaurant, we saw folks arriving with balloons. The latin jazz band was getting ready to play. A long table along the wall, underneath all the “Visit El Salvador” posters from the El Salvador Tourist Bureau, was filled with people ready to celebrate and mourn, too. At least I think so. That’s where all the balloons went. My Spanish kinda sucks so they may well have been there for a birthday or an anniversary.

lacasona3ju.th.jpg

Monique and I offered our condolences to Juanita:

“We hear you’re closing. I’m so sorry. That’s terrible.”

“Well, maybe. I’ll decide on Monday.”

Wha?

Slowly but surely the rest of the team arrived. Which was fitting, because that’s exactly how the service at La Casona continued to be – slow but sure. MelGold, crackers, Jacques Gastreaux, mdt and Mrs. Crescentfresh moseyed in. And as

the pitchers of sangria arrived and were subsequently downed, our sadness of La Casona’s demise washed away. Not excited by the sangria, JG and mdt were perfectly content downing bottles of Modelo like there was no tomorrow. Ordering them two at a time, in fact.

This was a rather sensible tactic, as there exist a number of species of animal life that evolve faster than the service at La Casona. But that did mean they were drinking twice as much. Of course you couldn’t keep the rest of us off that sangria either.

Although it took us several attempts, and we did have to call in the server who spoke the most English, we decided to be really smart and have our silverware delivered BEFORE the meal came! It took them a bit to understand that we simply wanted forks and knives. I guess they thought they should only be delivered WITH the food. Who knows?

So the music is playing and we’re bobbing our heads and tapping our feet. In between songs, the band leader would get too close to the microphone and mumble things in very fast Spanish that no one was really able to understand. Well, no one at our table at least. Then, all of a sudden, everyone from the party against the wall gets up and starts shaking their booties on the restaurant floor. Salsa with your salsa? Merengue with your masa? Lambada with your …? Quite a spectacle watching this as the servers attempted to deliver our food.

band8bb.th.jpg

Food? We did the appetizer selection for the table. An assorted mixture of everything we had once before that we liked, mostly consisting of delicious chunks of tender grilled pork nuggets, shredded pork pupusitas, grilled chicken chunks, lots of fried yucca. The usual suspects, let's say. The center of our tables was filled with these platters of food for us to pass around. And we had our silverware. And we had no plates. :lol:

Dinner consisted of a lot of pork chops porkchops9bz.th.jpg

and delmonicos. delmonico9lc.th.jpg

By the way, the closing? Well, apparently it’s all bullshit. I called last evening expecting to hear: “We’re sorry, but the number you have reached has been disconnected.”

Here’s what happened:

Ring – Ring – Ring --Ring

“Hello? La Casona.”

“Yes, um, what time do you open for dinner tonight?”

“We’re open now. And we’re open until one. We have latin jazz tonight, too.”

:P

Forbidden dance, anyone?

(Crackers - Thanks for the pics. Sorry for the lame-ass report!)

Edited by CrescentFresh
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