Archive for the ‘Rien Thai’ Tag

Foodie Fight – My Local Restaurant Reviews

This entry is all about food.  Good and bad from restaurants I have been to in the National Capital Region.

I carry around a little black book I use to take notes, mostly things-to-do, but also critiques of restaurants.

What gives me the right to be a critic?  I think everyone has that right.
What makes me a good critic?  I am not a pro chef.  I have never been to culinary school.  My favorite shows on TV are Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, No Reservations, and Iron Chef.  Yeah, I know that doesn’t constitute being a good critic either.  (I watch pro football too, but you don’t see me out there bangin’ it up with Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu.)

But I do love food.  I think I have a taste for good food.  It helps that I’ve lived in Italy for the last 8 years where I can honestly say I have never had a BAD meal.  Some meals were definitely better than others, but never a bad one.  Italians love their food too much, are too passionate, that if a restaurant weren’t any good, people would not come.

Since I’ve been here a little over a month, I have ventured out to the Greater D.C. area and have compiled a few notes.  The main reason keeping the notes/reviews is to remember the good spots to bring my wife when she arrives.

Side note: My wife is Italian.  She has visited the United States, but has never lived here.  As stated already, Italians are passionate about their food.  To make my wife happy, it behooves me to know where good food is.

The reviews below are in order from best to worst.  I went to these restaurants based on different reasons: Reviews (Zagat, The Washingtonian, Yelp, etc.), Recommendations from friends, and random off-the-street walk-ins.

My assessments take into account taste, service, and décor.  I do not give stars.  I keep it simple: Will I return?

Here we go,

1.    Ray’s The Steaks, Courthouse

  • I stopped in here before class for a quick dinner.  Ray’s reputation did not disappoint.  I read reviews and they consistently say this is a great place.  I do not disagree.  The atmosphere is loud and noisy, even at 5-5:30, they were already full.  My waitress took my order immediately.  On the heels of her walking away, my wine and complimentary toasted, seasoned cashews arrived.  Very good.  I had a mixed green salad in balsamic and blackened scallops (yeah, I know it is a steak joint, but was not that hungry and did not want to be stuffed during class).  The salad was OK, the greens seemed to wilt from the weight of the oil, too much.  The scallops, though, were perfect.  Cooked beautifully and with just the right amount of ‘kick’.  The service was fast, but almost too fast.  I felt like I was being rushed out.  Twice, busboys tried to clear my plate before I was finished. Overall, good experience.  Not ideal for intimate dining, but if you want good food and don’t mind the noise, great spot.  I will come back.

2.    Café Salsa, Alexandria

  • Great atmosphere, clean and open.  The service was very professional: my waiter knew the menu well and did a very good job pairing wine with my meal.  Complimentary homemade chips with salsa and fried plantains were a great start.  I had the Bistec De Palomilla, thin cut Cuban style steak with onions and Latin spices.  Overall a good dining experience.  Great for a date.  I’ll return.

3.    Hank’s Oyster Bar, Alexandria

  • I stopped in for their happy hour special, 2-for-1 oysters and planned only to have oysters and a beer, but stuck around for a full dinner because of the staff, the food and the overall good vibe.  Off of King Street, this is a thin, deep restaurant that feels somewhat cramped when walking in, but after two minutes, the claustrophobia goes away.  There was a good crowd, but it was not noisy.  The staff gave great recommendations: I had a half-dozen oysters from three different locations and you could definitely taste the differences between them; seafood ceviche with lime and jalapeno; and tilapia fish tacos with avocado.  Good for happy hour or informal dinner and drinks with friends.  I would return.

4.    Nam-Viet, Clarendon

  • I did not get a lot of non-Italian food the last 8 years.  I love Asian food and make it a point to eat Thai, Vietnamese or Japanese every couple of weeks.  Nam-Viet is a two-minute walk from school and there were good reviews in both Yelp and Zagat, so I gave it a shot.  I walked in around 3 p.m. on a Thursday and was the only one there, not unusual for that hour.  When checking out restaurants for the first time, I typically ask the wait staff for their recommendations, their specialties.  “What did you have for lunch today?”  “What do you always have?”  I normally find that you can’t go wrong when you take this route.  Although, if a restaurant is not very good and the kitchen is poor, the food will reflect, wait staff favorite or not.  The waiter recommended the Pho Ga, chicken noodle soup.  It was awesome.  Soup in general is such a simple thing, but when done right, can be complex and exciting.  A sip of the broth revealed a lot of time and effort, the right balance of stock and spices.  My main was Grilled Beef and Shrimp with Rice Vermicelli.  Good size portion, and tasty, but paled in comparison to the soup.  Good for a quick bite.  I will come back again and again for the soup.

5.    Rien Thai, Clarendon

  • Spitting distance from the Clarendon Metro, on Wilson.  I tried a quick bite before class.  The food was edible, but nothing to write home about (nor this blog entry).  I will not go back.

6.    Zikrayet, Alexandria

  • Not impressed at all.  The restaurant is inviting, sleek, open air eating, but that is where any goodness ends.  I stopped here while waiting to look at a nearby apartment.  It was a nice evening so I sat at one of their tables outside.  The first was wobbly, so I moved to the next and the same problem.  Right from the beginning, the service lacked. My waiter was not professional, too familiar, “Yeah man!”  “Sure, dude.”  He seemed more interested in something going on with his colleagues than with his job. I had to ask twice for utensils.  The food was average at best: grape leaves with rice and babba ghanouge, an eggplant dish.  I will not go back.

I’ve got some more reviews, but this entry is getting long.  More to follow in future posts.

If you have any GOOD recommendations, let me know.  I’d love to pull out the black book.