DC Ramen, Lobster Rolls and Silver Spring Sushi

I was in DC on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week for a work conference, and got the chance to hit up a couple of awesome spots in the District. First up was Haikan, the new-ish ramen joint from the Daikaya team. It’s in Shaw near the Howard University campus, on the bottom floor of the Atlantic Plumbing apartment building in a slick, modern, light-filled space.

I started with the Smoke Show cocktail:  Ryukyu Awamori, a rice-based spirit similar to shoju that hails from Okinawa, mixed with Dolin Blanc vermouth and black peppercorn tincture with a torched cedar chip in the glass.  The aroma of the smoke mingled with the sweet and savory notes of the other ingredients and elevated the drink (plus I’m a sucker for a smoked cocktail).  I got the Smashed Cucumber Salad and the Shoyu ramen with spicebomb, nori and bamboo.  The salad was delicious, in a sweet, soy-sauce based Rayu-Shoyu dressing, but the ramen was the star of the show. The broth was rich, and the spicebomb lived up to its name, adding a ton of heat and flavor. As with everything the Daikaya team does, Haikan hits the sweet spot of Asian flavors that are hot right now, with the authenticity and attention to detail that will please any ramen purist.

The next night, after my work event, my husband headed up to meet me so we could go to a show at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, one of our favorite venues.  We always stay at the Hampton Inn or Homewood Suites (they’re in the same building) the next block over from The Fillmore.  We parked the car, checked into the hotel and headed out to find somewhere to eat dinner.

A block away from the hotel, we found Sushi Jin, a narrow sushi spot sandwiched between a hair salon and a Quizno’s.  They had a bunch of special rolls on the menu.  We got a roll called “Lobster Lasagna” and a bunch of other rolls and some Japanese craft beer – Hitachino White Ale from Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki.

The sushi rolls were all delicious and filling.  The Lobster Lasagna was topped with mounds and mounds of fresh lobster, and the other special roll we ordered was full of Maryland crab.  Sushi Jin was a hit – my new favorite sushi restaurant in Silver Spring.

On the way out of DC the next day, we made a point of stopping at Metro Center where the food trucks line 12th Street at lunch, so that we could grab lunch from the DC outpost of the always-delicious Red Hook Lobster Pound. My husband and I visited the original Red Hook location on our last NYC trip, and when I found out they had a DC food truck, I decided I had to give it a try.

It was pricey, but it is lobster after all (funny considering lobster used to be so plentiful it was considered the food of the poor).  I got the BLT lobster roll and my husband got the Maine Style.  Both were served on a warm, buttered roll with a huge pickle spear.  We got some Cape Cod chips and the truck had Maine Root fountain beverages, so we got a Mexi-Vanilla Cola.

This was a delicious DC trip.  I can’t wait to return to try out more food spots!

 

Pop’s Market on Grace

Before a show at The National on Friday night, my husband and I stopped for dinner at Pop’s Market on Grace. The casual restaurant and market is located just down the block from the Carpenter Center and is convenient to galleries and entertainment on Broad Street as well. This section of Grace Street has historically been a part of the downtown shopping district, and is even a designated historic district with the National Park Service.

Pop’s Market offers a wide range of quick-service foods, like sandwiches and salads, as well as prepared meals like pastas. I had the Caprese on focaccia and my husband tried the pulled pork hoagie. Both were ENORMOUS – enough that we had a whole meal for Saturday’s lunch.

Pop’s also has refrigerated prepared foods, coffee and breakfast items and other local products. The space is expansive, with high ceilings and a prime corner location, as well as architectural details like exposed brick.

Dinner at Pop’s Market was fairly inexpensive, delicious and filling. They also have local draft beers for $5 each.

Favorite Richmond Cocktail Bars

Richmond has so many awesome bars and restaurants, and I haven’t had the time to make the rounds of all of them (yet!). But here are a few of my favorites:

Grandstaff & Stein Booksellers – This speakeasy requires you to follow them on Facebook to get that day’s secret password. Once you have it, you can slip past the bookshelves out front into the bar area. There’s a large wooden bar and an inventive cocktail menu, or you can ask the bartender to whip something up based on your tastes and preferences. Above are the Bean Picker, the Fist City and a Rye Old Fashioned.

Belle & James – Located right in the heart of downtown on East Main Street, this elegant bar has loads of signature drinks and delicious French-inspired food. From classic Old Fashioned’s to fun drinks like the Jack Skellington, a not-too-sweet treat topped with a freshly-toasted marshmallow, the bartenders have created a fun, hip drink menu. Above are an Old Fashioned and the Jack Skellington.

Saison – This place gets my vote for the best food and drinks in Richmond. I first came here for an event during the Fire, Flour & Fork Festival in 2014, and I’ve returned several times for the delicious Southern and Mexican menu and the most creative cocktails in Richmond. Try anything on the menu – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

 

Quick trip to the mountains

This summer, rather than a weeklong vacation to one location, we’re trying to take smaller overnight trips to places closer to home. This weekend, we headed to the mountains of Virginia for a quick trip to visit some of my favorite places in the state.

We started by heading to the Green Valley Book Fair, a warehouse full of closeout books and toys in Mount Crawford, about fifteen minutes south of Harrisonburg. My kids adored exploring the aisles and aisles of books, and we all picked out some treasures. One of mine was a book on Virginia food called “Food Lover’s Guide to Virginia,” a guidebook covering every region of Virginia with recipes, restaurant lists and information on foods native to that region.

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After our visit to the book fair, we headed to the Dayton Farmers Market for some lunch. We had barbecue sandwiches, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and wraps from Hank’s BBQ inside the market, which were amazingly delicious, then browsed the shops. Warfel’s Sweet Shoppe featured homemade chocolates and sweet treats of all kinds. Other vendors offered trays of homemade cinnamon rolls and various baked goods, bulk kitchen staples, soup mixes and candies, cheeses, deli meats and coffees and teas. There were plenty of other vendors selling home decor, jewelry and more. The location couldn’t be prettier either. The small town of Dayton, Virginia lies in the rolling hills just a few minutes’ drive from the Green Valley Book Fair.

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We stayed at the Quality Inn in Harrisonburg, and we spent our evening having dinner at the Bob Evans across the street from the hotel, then walking around in downtown Harrisonburg looking for Pokemon (my kids and I are addicted to Pokemon Go). Breakfast was complimentary and was a decent buffet with eggs, sausage, biscuits, waffles, bagels, muffins, danish, cereal, hardboiled eggs, yogurt, fruit, etc. Our hotel had a nice pool behind it, so when we were finished with breakfast we headed out to the pool for a bit before checkout.

Once we got on the road heading for home, we decided we wanted to stop in Charlottesville for lunch. We walked around the Downtown Mall area and decided on Cinema Taco, a small taco shop next to the Jefferson Theater. They had a few different taco options, including a Baja fish taco and a couple of vegan options. Their burrito bowl and fresh limeade were yummy and my kids loved sitting in the little window alcoves watching people walk by.

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After lunch, we took the free T trolley around town to see the sights (and hunt Pokemon!), then we drove back home. I loved our quick trip to the mountains!

 

Game of Thrones themed cupcakes OMG

So, Carytown Cupcakes has Game of Thrones themed cupcakes guys! Through tomorrow, there are six different cupcakes inspired by Game of Thrones:  the Mother of Dragons, the Jon Snow, the White Walker, the Red Wedding, the Greyscale and the vegan Pigeon Pie.

I LOVED the Jon Snow (of course)! It was a rich chocolate cupcake full of cherry compote and topped with “sweet snow” frosting and dark chocolate shards. My second favorite was the vegan Pigeon Pie cupcake, a vanilla cupcake with berry filling topped with a cute pigeon pastry garnish.

RVA Restaurant Review – Graffiato

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to eat at new Richmond restaurant Graffiato, from acclaimed Top Chef All-Stars Runner-Up Mike Isabella.  After the success of Graffiato DC and on the heels of a three-year stint at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya and Top Chef fame, Isabella opened Graffiato Richmond on Sept. 10, and the restaurant has served a packed house nearly every night since.  Located in the space formerly occupied by Popkin Tavern on Broad Street in downtown, the space is modern industrial with an open, airy feel.

Our reservation was for 7:30, and it took the hostesses a few minutes to get our table ready, but they were super nice and apologetic about the wait.  No worries – rumor had it that even people with a reservation had had to wait upwards of 45 minutes during opening week, so our ten minute or so wait was no big deal.

The beverage list was full of innovative cocktails, like a jazzed-up Pisco Sour and an “RVA Gin and Tonic” made with local gin.  Interesting wine choices make an appearance on the wine list, which is heavy on Greek and Italian wines (to go with the pizza and Mediterranean-influenced fare).  Virginia vintages are also well-represented.  The beer selections are a local beer acolyte’s dream:  Hardywood, Center of the Universe, Strangeways, Lickinghole Creek, Ardent Craft and Devil’s Backbone are all offered, plus more from Virginia, DC and Denver.  I had the “Put Me in Your Mix”:  bourbon, amaro, orange, honey and hefeweizen.  It was served with a long, thin shard of ice and a lemon slice, and was the perfect start to my Graffiato adventure.

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Following the trend in fine dining restaurants, portions are small plates and intended for sharing.  Our group was large enough that each of us ordered a few things and we all got to try different dishes throughout our meal.  For starters, we had the broccolini with red pepper relish, walnuts and feta and the roasted cauliflower with pecorino, mint and red onion.  Both were fresh and flavorful, with an innovative focus on vegetables rather than the bread or fried appetizers typical of most Italian menus.

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We also tried the Cheese & Cure tray, which is served on a slab of slate with your choice of three or five cheeses and meats.  Our group had the Bijou, a goat cheese from Vermont, the Bianco Sardo, a sheep’s milk cheese from Italy and the Italian Coppa, tender cured pork shoulder sliced thin.  Smears of spicy mustard and a sweet apricot glaze rounded out the plate.

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The menu boasted a bunch of gourmet wood-fired pizzas, and we tried the Greco Roman:  black figs, goat cheese and tasso; the Jersey Shore:  fried calamari, tomato, provolone and cherry pepper aioli; and the White House:  mozzarella, taleggio, ricotta, prosciutto and black pepper honey.  All three were phenomenal – I can’t even pick a favorite.  The flavor combinations were creative, yet familiar.  The crusts were baked perfectly.  My only – minor – gripe was that the prosciutto on the White House pizza wasn’t quite as crispy-looking (or tasting) or as caramelized as the picture on the website.  But it still tasted awesome.

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There was a small mixup with our order of the hand cut spaghetti (with olive oil-poached cherry tomatoes and Thai basil), which resulted in it coming out last, but it was a delicious ending to our meal.  The Thai basil is something I never would have thought to put with an Italian pasta dish, but it worked perfectly.  These kinds of innovative tweaks to Mediterranean comfort food are the hallmark of Graffiato’s.  Mike Isabella’s creative and well-executed menu puts the new Richmond location at the forefront of the city’s dining scene.

The verdict – 8.5 of 10 stars