Masala Art

Rock Salt & Cilantro Lime

After writing up our recent post on homemade Indian food, J & I were craving Indian last Friday. Luckily we already had plans to grab drinks in Tenleytown, so it was the perfect excuse to visit Masala Art in person (J had picked up takeout for us once before).

When I arrived, I was immediately taken with the atmosphere. From the exterior and its neighbors, you’d never suspect how subtly sophisticated and warm Masala Art could be inside. The music and noise level of conversations around the room were soft even though some of the tables are pretty close together. While I waited for J, I sipped on my delicious cocktail and perused the menu. I can’t recall the name of the cocktail, but it was a mix of amaretto, red wine and mint.

Although I was slightly overwhelmed by the choices on the menu, I appreciated the variety of options and price points (appetizers around $5.00 and entrees ranging from $10-22). We opted to go for several appetizers in order to try out more dishes.

Shrimp & Chicken

Our first dish ended up being by far my favorite. The Aloo aur Pyaz ki Bhaji (Juliennes of potatoes and onions in chickpeas batter) would be my hangover food of choice if I still lived in Tenleytown. Imagine a flavorful, slightly spicy mix of crispy french fries and a Blooming Onion (although that may discount how tasty these are) all rolled into one. With two sauces to tame or add to the flavor, I could have eaten 10 of these. Maybe the best thing I’ve eaten since the bocadillos at Estadio.

Next up, the Chicken 65 (chicken tossed in South Indian masala) and Jheenga Porchai Yera (spicy tempered prawns). We paired these with the rock salt and cilantro naan. We should have ordered rice and/or a vegetable at this point.

Both dishes were spicier than our attentive waiter led us to believe, but not overly so. They each evoked barbecue flavors- the chicken more of a tomato-base, and the prawns more a wing flavor.

Our last two dishes were perhaps the most interesting, but our least favorite flavor-wise. Dahi Bhalle, velvety lentil dumplings in yogurt sauce, and Bhelpuri, which was puffed rice, chickpea vermicelli, peanuts, chopped onion, diced mango, cilantro and drizzled with tamarind chutney.

Dahi Bhalle

We had spotted numerous orders of the Bhelpuri, which essentially looked like taco salad bowls, so obviously the description enticed other diners too. Unfortunately, the description didn’t live up to our expectations, and it amounted to a bowl of Rice Krispies and Corn Puffs. With extra chutney and maybe another sauce for added flavor and moisture, I would have enjoyed the dish more, but the flavor was just not there like it had been in previous dishes.

For all the crunch that the Bhelpuri had, Dahi Bhalle lacked. The ‘velvety’ adjective used by the menu description is perfectly accurate, but the dish was too one note for me.

I’m already anticipating my next visit to Masala Art with friends in tow to sample more of the dishes. While it might not quite reach the heights of Rasika‘s Indian, it’s a more affordable and worthy option; our bill came to $45 w/out tax.

Check out Masala Art at 4441 B Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20016.

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Bold Bite

Who doesn’t love a good hot dog? Especially when it’s dressed with fresh toppings & nestled in a warm bun. Luckily, Bold Bite opened several blocks from my apartment in Bethesda last year.

During our first trip there, my accomplice was tempted by the spicy chorizo show dog; a Mexican-style dog with guacamole, Monterrey jack cheese, pico de gallo and cilantro lime sauce. But she went with a “simpler” dog for her first experience; The Bold BLT with applegate all-natural beef frank, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, apple wood smoked bacon, house aioli on a buttered bun. We also ordered a medium fry with the cilantro lime sauce. Although the dog itself looked a little small, the overflowing toppings more than made up for it.

These were the kind of fries I wish every burger (and dog) food joint served. The perfect mix of crispy, salty and tender on the inside. And taking them over the edge, they’re served with one of the same sauces you can top your dog with. We chose cilantro lime, and it took everything she had not to lick the cup clean.

Spicy Chorizo Show Dog

On our second trip a couple of weeks ago, we went with the spicy chorizo show dog, described above, and the spicy chicken dog.

On the chorizo, the spiciness was subtle, which was great for me but maybe not for the spice lover. To be honest, I’m not even sure that my dog had any guacamole, but the other toppings provided plenty of flavor.

To my delight, the fries gave the same crispy crunch they did the first time around, proving that they were prepared the same way constantly.

The spicy chicken was a nice mix of a spiced mayo sauce on Asian style coleslaw, a toasted french baguette which nested the chicken sausage, and a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds. It was a lighter and spicy meal that satisfied without leaving me filling too full, a fine meal for anyone wanting to lay off red meat.

Check out Bold Bite’s website or Facebook page, or go straight to their menu. Interested? Then drop by for a bite at 4901 Fairmont Ave, Bethesda.

Road Trip: Dame’s Chicken & Waffles, Durham, NC

The Quilted Buttercup

Thanks to numerous weddings in the past couple of years, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to return to my home state of North Carolina for brief visits. While DC has great food with lots of cultures and cuisines represented, I still miss my southern food. So whenever I visit NC, I try my best to either visit one of my old favs or try a new place that’s representative of the state’s food culture.

Last Saturday provided a great opportunity to try somewhere new. J & I  met my dad and brother for lunch in Durham before the next leg of our trip to Greensboro for a friend’s wedding. Even though I grew up 45 minutes from Durham, I’m not too familiar with downtown, which has experienced a revitalization in the past few years.

My brother directed me to a blog with reviews of Durham restaurants to select our desired eatery. J & I settled on Dame’s Chicken & Waffles. Sure, Birch & Barley has delicious chicken & waffles, but I thought Dame’s would give us a different take on the southern dish.

Our first impressions of the restaurant weren’t great. It was fairly small and I noticed several empty tables, yet a few groups of people gathered outside. The hostess informed me that the issue was waiter availability rather than table availability and she pulled a 15 to 20-minute wait estimate out of you-know-where.

Fine. We had time to kill and it was nice out, so we waited. And waited. It ended up being at least 30 minutes. But we dealt with it, and were ravenous and ready to order when seated.

Dame’s is smart to offer a short and simple menu of nothing but various types of chicken & waffles. Their specialty is something called a “schmear” or flavored sweet creme butters in varieties such as blueberry, maple and toasted almond creme. Each waffle is served with a southern side such as mac & cheese, squash, and my personal favorite, collards. Coffee is self-serve, which is nice given how long our waitress took with our other drinks.

Luckily though, food service was quick. Before we knew it, massive plates of chicken & waffles sat before us.  I decided on the ‘Quilted Buttercup’-  two petite “rare breed” scratch-made sweet potato waffles shmeared w/ maple & candied pecan. I smeared the schmear on the top waffle and pierced a bit of each ingredient onto my fork so I could taste all the components together. The chicken was perfectly crisp, crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The sweetness of the schmear went perfectly with the savory chicken. My main complaint was the lack of sweet potato flavor. But given how much chicken was on my plate and the sweetness of the schmear, I guess that was to be expected. My side of collards was delicious as well, with an unexpected kick to them.

J ordered what they called “What a Classy Hen?” which came with a vanilla and toasted almond schmear on a classic waffle, with squash and onions for his side. However, for some inexplicable reason, he decided to go with the healthier grilled chicken. This slightly defeated the purpose. The outer edges of the chicken were tough, but the inner sections managed to remain juicy and tender. The schmear was smooth on both the chicken and the waffle, and the saltiness of the squash  balanced the dish nicely.

While it’s nice for the health-conscious that Dame’s offers the grilled option, we say you should just plan on skipping the restaurant if you’re looking to eat healthy. There’s something about the crunch and savoriness of the fried chicken that mixes with the sweet waffle that makes the dish. The ‘magic’ is just lost when the crunch of the chicken is removed from the equation. Overall, it was a delicious meal and somewhere I’d return the next time I have time to kill and calories to add in Durham.

Check out Dame’s Chicken and Waffles at 317 West Main Street,  Durham, NC.

Best Recipes of 2011

Happy 2012!

I’m a little behind on the end-of-year listage, but better late than never. Here are our top 5 recipes of 2011! To qualify, the recipes had to be a recipe we hadn’t tried prior to 2011, so that knocked out some recipes we may have cooked more frequently. Nonetheless, these five (in no particular order) were our favs of the year:

1. Martha Stewart’s “Perfect” Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

C: A friend gushed about this recipe, and once I saw it, I knew I had to try it. I made the mac last week for dinner with a few friends. It was pretty time consuming, but definitely a cheesy indulgence when regular ole’ mac & cheese just won’t cut it.

J: It was a hard to beat recipe. C has always made great macaroni and cheese, but this one just blew so many recipes out of the water. What was even more awesome was mixing it with some of the red-eye barbeque sauce I had made for the pork loin dish. If you have people coming over, I can’t imagine a better side for a heavy meal.

2. Pumpkin Gingersnap Cookies

C: I never would have guessed that a non-chocolate cookie would be one of my favorite sweet treats of the year, but these were addictive.

J: I came across this recipe by accident and suggested it to C for a party. The results were gone in a second. The cookies mixed the ginger’s snappy sweetness and pumpkin’s bitterness well, resulting in a balanced tasting dessert. Once you try it, it will likely become a permanent weapon in your holiday baking arsenal.

3. Summer vegetable tostadas

C: This is a simple recipe that J and I often cooked this summer when indecisive about dinner.

J: For a lot of reasons, you really can’t go wrong with this dish. It’s delicious and versatile. I prefer zucchini while C prefers squash. What frustrates me is that whenever I do squash, the chicken comes out right. When I do zucchini, the chicken isn’t properly done. What’s great though is that this dish can be all things to everyone. Eliminate the cheese and you’ve got a great dinner on a diet. Drop the chicken and you can please vegetarians. And as I pointed out, you can do other vegetables if they are not to your liking.

4. Pioneer Woman’s Dreamy Apple Pie with Sylvia’s Blessed Pie Crust

Dreamy Apple Pie

C: This is a two-fer because the pie would not have been so delicious if it weren’t for the crust, and I’ll most likely use the crust recipe more in the future than I will the apple pie. That said, for apple pie-lovers, this one is a winner.

J: Most of the time, you can wing something in a recipe. A slight bit more of this or a little less of that. But what set this recipe apart from every other pie was undoubtedly the crust.

It was the first time I’ve ever had a home-made crust. But once you taste the difference, you’ll recognize a superiority to the same old frozen food section we’ve all come to accept as the “standard.” If you’re going to go for side-widening calories, make them good with this pie crust.

5. Shrimp Cakes with Corn-avocado salsa

C: I had completely forgotten about this, but this was J’s pick. It was delicious, but not the easiest or quickest recipe. This is slightly different than the recipe we used from a magazine, but the result should be similarly delicious.

J: Whatever you do, do not, repeat, do not attempt to make this when you’re hungry. C and I spent a couple of hours doing all the prep work. De-veining the shrimp, cutting up the ingredients, blending it, searing it, so on, so on. This is something you prepare on a summer day when you have some important guests you really want to impress, and only when you’ve got the time to do it. But it’s worth every bite.

There you have it! Our top recipes of 2011! What were your favorites this past year? What are you planning to cook in 2012?

Estadio

A very good friend of mine gave me a giftcard to Estadio– one of the restaurants at the top of my ‘to-try’ list- for my birthday. J and I decided- somewhat on a whim- to put that to use a couple of Fridays ago.

I’d heard the wait time at the restaurant could be hours, but the hostess told us it would only be 45 minutes to 1 hour, so we made our way to the boisterous bar and ordered a couple of sangrias (one red and one white). My only complaint about my red sangria was the mint flavor was not as strong as I would have liked (it was more like a garnish).  The bartender also recommended I try the Tinto de Verano-red wine with their housemade lemon soda, which I enjoyed maybe more than the sangria since it wasn’t too sweet. J tried the beer on draft, which was average, but then again, it’s pretty clear wine and cocktails is Estadio’s thing.

Calamari

Our table was ready sooner than I expected, and we were led to the other side of the bar, the centerpiece of the restaurant. The hostess seated us at the end of a long table. One note: these were the heaviest restaurant chairs I’ve ever experience. J literally had to push me up to the table, and I couldn’t get out without his help, especially since I was seated right against the bar crowd. Made things a little awkward.

We began our meal with two each of the pintxos, which are simply one bite on a skewer.  We had the chorizo, manchego & pistachio-crusted quince, and jamon-wrapped fig, almond, cabrales- both of which packed as much flavor as one could ask for out of one bite.  Next up was a large bowl of butternut squash soup with pepitas. Given that everything on the menu is essentially small plates, we were pleasantly surprised by how much soup Estadio served. The pepitas added a nice crunch to the soup, but I would have liked a few more, and J wanted more spice to cut the sweetness of the squash. It was definitely tasty though and a great value.

Next up- the highlight of our meal- the bocadillos. We ordered two- the“Escalivada” grilled vegetables, black olive puree & alioli, and the pork belly & pickled shishito peppers. My first bite of the pork belly didn’t give me a taste of the peppers, but the subsequent bites had the pepper flavor that the pork really needed to elevate its flavor. After a couple of bites and each of us gushing over the sandwich we were eating, J & I switched, and I had my own taste of the veggie bocadillo. Thus began the battle of my taste buds (and between J & I) to decide which sandwich was better. The Verdict: Rematch needed!

Hanger Steak

After the bocadillos, our expectations were high. Unfortunately, maybe too high as our next dishes disappointed. The wild mushroom croquettas with arugula and roasted peppers tasted like stuffing from Thanksgiving. Yes, yummy but they lacked the depth and complexity of the other dishes. The hanger steak with salsa verde and chunky olive oil potatoes was visually appealing. We ordered the steak medium when we should have opted for medium rare, but the potatoes (prepared chunky- just the way I like them!) and the salsa verde helped. We also ordered the calamari.  I found it to be too tough with an overwhelming charred taste. Definitely a dish we could have done without.

We ended the meal with another glass of red sangria and pumpkin bread pudding with spiced ice cream.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

I expect bread pudding to be a little moister than this one, but still delicious. I enjoyed the ice cream more, but J preferred the bread pudding itself.

Overall, Estadio makes for a fun splurge of a night out. It’s not quiet by any stretch of imagination, yet  it has an intimate feel because of the small space, dim lighting, and need to huddle in to hear one another. I’m looking forward to returning in warmer months to try the slushitos (alcoholic slushees)!

J’s Take: Estadio is one of those places that really plays by its own rules. They don’t do reservations after 6pm. They don’t rely on many well-known beer brands. They didn’t want to cater to American tastes in the slightest.

It’s a mixed blessing. Sure, we went to Estadio to try something new. But tapas places, with their small multiple dishes, let you balance between new things and trusted favorites. So you can get something you know is satisfying should your gambled dish not be as great as you imagined.

While C already discussed everything else, I just wanted to talk about the sandwiches they served us- the bocadillos. The sandwiches were quite tasty, the pork belly being the best I’ve ever tasted. This actually surprised me. You see, pork belly was on track to being one of my least favorite dishes overall, regardless of where I went. It was frequently dry and rather bland, and frustrated me because C kept ordering it, disappointment after disappointment.

But Estadio viewed pork belly as something to be spiced red and served with pickled shishito peppers. They understand that pork belly provides a great base of a meal, but that it must draw flavor from other elements. Pork isn’t steak, it needs something to go with it. Just as we serve pork chops with sauerkraut, apple sauce or coleslaw, they knew that pork is not a standalone meat. And they flavored it well with a combination of sourness and spice.

The pork sandwich was very good. But meals like the escalivada grilled vegetables with the olive puree and aioli could turn me vegetarian because of how delicious they are. As I sampled both, I had a vision of a food truck that only served sandwiches composed of the contents of these two bocadillos. The vegetables were something between soft and crunchy, snappy both physically and in spice.

I don’t know if I’ll return to Estadio anytime soon, but I will be on the look out for bocadillos sandwich shops in the future.

Estadio is located at 1520 14th Street Northwest, Washington, DC, in Logan Circle.