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.

Birthday Dinner at The Atlas Room

My birthday meal is something I take very seriously. I spend weeks researching what new restaurant I want to try and what would provide a lively atmosphere, good drinks, and delicious food. Last year I chose brunch at Birch & Barley since my birthday was on a Sunday, aka the Official Day of  Brunching, IMO.  This year, I narrowed my choices to Estadio, a return visit to Graffiato, and The Atlas Room. J chose The Atlas Room.

We arrived early for our reservation, so we settled in at the small bar at the back of the tiny restaurant. I ordered the Pisco Sour (Macchu Pisco, Fresh Lime Juice, Egg White), and J selected the  Blue Point Toaster Lager, which he loved. The cocktail was perfectly frothy, sour and light.

I took the time while sipping on the cocktail and waiting for our table to glance around the restaurant. Although I found the atmosphere to be a little stuffy (I’d much prefer a silent basketball game on the bar tv than calming landscape images), and the clientele much older than what you’d normally find on hip H Street, the restaurant still offered a certain charm with its coziness and decor of various maps.

The menu at The Atlas Room is unlike any I have ever seen. It is split into sections by main ingredients, with three size plates for each- basically appetizer, small plate & entree. So you can pick & choose depending on what type of meal you want to have. J & I ended up sharing 1 appetizer, 1 small plate, 1 entree and 1 dessert, which was the perfect amount of food. Okay, maybe we didn’t need dessert, but it was my birthday!

Seared Tuna & Hush Puppies

We started with a seared tuna accompanied with hushpuppies.  While I’m not sure the two really belong together, I enjoyed both enough not to care. Our next two dishes came out together. The entree of beef two ways (braised short rib, flatiron steak with parsnip potato puree, lentils, roasted baby beets and red wine sauce). And the small plate portion of grilled vegetable gratin, composed of fontina cheese, couscous, grilled veggies & tomato.

Beef Two Ways

For me, the flatiron steak was the highlight of the entree, particularly when dipped in the wine sauce. The short ribs tasted like pot roast to me, which unfortunately I have never been a fan of. Similarly, I would rather my potatoes be a little on the chunky side rather than pureed, so these were not my favorite either. I’m thinking maybe I would have been more happy with our choice if I had just paid better attention to the description of the entree. I did enjoy the cheesy vegetable gratin and the unexpected texture the couscous brought to the dish.

The desserts are recited by the waiter, rather than listed on the menu. I chose the one chocolate dish, which was essentially a fudgy mousse dish. It was nice to end the meal on a high note after a somewhat disappointing main course.

All in all, I was slightly underwhelmed by our meal at The Atlas Room, but could see having a totally different experience another time if ordering different dishes. Part of The Atlas Room’s appeal is that it features dishes inspired from all different parts of the world, so it would be possible for a subsequent visit to have a much different flavor.

J’s overall take: I thought it was overall well done, but at the same time as I ate, I didn’t feel there was anything there I couldn’t get anywhere else for a better price and more convenient location.

Check out The Atlas Room at 1015 H Street, NE, Washington, DC.Open Tuesday-Sunday for dinner, and Sundays for brunch.

Rasika

Shrimp Balchao.

Shrimp Balchao.

Back in August, our actual first meal for Restaurant Week meal was a restaurant I’d been looking forward to trying for months. Rasika is lauded as one of the best restaurants in DC and one of the best Indian restaurants in the country.  Unlike some restaurants,  you can order from the Restaurant Week menu or from the regular menu, so James and I decided he would order off the regular menu while I ordered from the RW menu to give us a little more variety.

I started with an appetizer of the shrimp balchao with peri peri masala, onions and tomato. If I had known balchao was an Indian form of ‘pickling’ I may not have ordered the dish, but I didn’t regret the choice.  It tasted more like spicy barbecued shrimp  with a strong tomato flavor. For my main entree I decided to try something I wouldn’t normally order- the Tamarind Black Cod with star anise, black pepper, roasted chili on a bed of upma (Indian polenta). Black cod is not a very fishy fish so it’s a good choice for more apprehensive fish-eaters. It was one of the flakiest pieces of fish I’ve ever tasted. The different spices gave each bite a different flavor. The upma was the perfect contrast in texture  to the main dish. My final bites of the cod were a little fishier than most of the fish but still tasty mixed with the other components of the dish.

Tamarind Black Cod.

Tamarind Black Cod.

After some thought, James decided on the chicken green masala, a basic but reliable dish.  The masala was tasty and properly spicy, a slow growing degree of heat that saturated the tongue.

While James was looking at the beer menu, trying to find something to balance out the meal, our server mentioned a brand of beer on the list called Kingfisher. An Indian ale, it was a smooth mixture of a pale ale and a light lager that complimented the meal perfectly. If you are a connoisseur of beer, we recommend this brand.

I’ll admit I’m not a fan of Asian desserts. Luckily Rasika offered a couple of options more to my taste. I chose the chocolate and mint ice cream, and I was not disappointed. It had a thicker consistency than your everyday frozen treat and tasted more like a rich chocolate brownie. It was the perfect cooling end to a spicy meal.

Chicken Green Masala.

Chicken Green Masala.

A couple of other notes about Rasika: The service was superb. Our server never slacked, giving us the right amount of attention and small talk against the time we needed to make our decisions and enjoy each others company.

He even surprised us when we told him we were celebrating our anniversary, bringing us two glasses of champagne and even a dessert for James to enjoy since he didn’t order one of his own.

Rasika is a great option when you’re looking for that special place for an anniversary, birthday or other important occasion.

Interested? Try Rasika over at 633 D Street Northwest, Washington, DC. To make a reservation, call them at (202) 637-1222.

Maine Avenue Fish Market

Sometimes you need to be a tourist in your own city, especially when it’s a city with so much to offer like DC.  A LivingSocial deal for a Monuments by Moonlight boat cruise was the perfect incentive to discover a part of the city that I work near, but have honestly never spent any free time in-SW DC. I’d heard a little about the Maine Avenue Fish Market & thought it would be a great precursor to the boat cruise, especially with the amazing fall-like weather we had a couple of weeks ago.

Yum.

Yum.

James and I trekked from my office to the waterfront past a couple of abandoned restaurants  and the site of the Wharf Market until we came upon the bustling scene of the fish market. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to San Francisco, but the smells, sounds and atmosphere of the market temporarily transported me  to the waterside city. Piles of freshly-caught crab, fish and shrimp stared back at us as we explored each of the vendors.  Most of the vendors offered selections for customers to cook at home as well as dishes to be eaten there.

We ended up choosing a dinner deal of two crab cakes, two sides (we chose collard greens and hushpuppies) and a “free” soda for about $15. Not a bad deal for fresh seafood in DC.  After about a 10-minute wait, our order was up and we carried it to eat out on the waterside dining area. Take note: no chairs, just standing bar-like tables. The crab cakes themselves were somewhat small but with the complete meal, plenty for two people to share. The cakes had a good balance of crab and filler. I did have a couple of pieces of ‘gristle’ but I think that’s to be expected with fresh crab. The hushpuppies were a-maz-ing. The perfect crunchy-crispiness & flavorful enough to not need butter or any other condiment. The collards could have used some vinegar (maybe they had some available; I didn’t ask), but were generally satisfying to this collard-lover. I’d definitely like to head back to the fish market before winter arrives. Next time I’m hoping to pick up some crab legs- my favorite!

Maine Avenue Fish Market is located at 1100 Maine Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024.

Shrimp & Grits

Shrimp & GritsShrimp and grits. A lot of people aren’t familiar with grits, and those that are may think of them only as a breakfast item to be eaten alongside their eggs. But grits have a savory aspect to them that works well when mixed with, rather than served beside, certain ingredients and flavors.

My first taste of shrimp and grits occurred at Againn, but being from the South, it was not Cass’ first sampling. However, Againn set an unfairly high standard for the dish. The dish was terrific and they were surely versed in how to prepare grits perfectly. Still, we decided to try our hand at preparing this dish as an entree after finding a recipe in Southern Living from Bill Smith, executive chef at Crook’s Corner, a Southern food restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC,  which was honored this year with a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics award.

One of the joys of this recipe was very little prep time. There are only green onions to chop, which aren’t as tear-inducing as their larger cousins. For the shrimp however, we chose to peel and de-vein fresh shrimp ourselves instead of going for the pricier pre-peeled shrimp.  You can learn how to do this by checking out this how-to video. While this process takes a little practice, it’s relatively easy. Although I do recommend care with a knife when cutting down the backside of the shrimp.

The final product was not entirely as we had hoped. Cass was a little off on the measurements for the grits since we were unexpectedly in a rush. I also wondered if the chicken broth really imparted a full flavor. Part of me daydreamed of experimenting with  gravy on the dish instead of the broth. Don’t discount the bacon bits sprinkled atop the grits. The bacon added a nice crunch to each bite. Cass pointed out that the dish may have been richer if we had used full fat milk and cheese. The other problem was my fault as I had overcooked the shrimp slightly, making it tough. But all in all, it was a fairly quick dish to prepare and surely one that could be perfected over time.