RASA’s Indian Bowls Bring the ‘Essence of Enjoyment’ to DC

The rise of the fast casual trend in DC has been very welcome in our household for both our stomachs and our wallets. But there’s a new spot in town that’s about to turn the fast casual scene upside down – in the best way possible.

RASA is a “fine fast casual” restaurant located in our old Navy Yard stomping grounds, serving up a tantalizing selection of customizable Indian flavors. The concept is the brain child of Rahul Vinod and Sahil Rahman, who grew up in the restaurant industry. Ever since they were young, they’ve wanted to share the meals they grew up loving with people unfamiliar with Indian food and to broaden diners’ understanding of how expansive Indian cuisine really is. Their labor of love has finally come to fruition, and the results are outstanding.

RASA DC

The Space

RASA is a combination of Rahul and Sahil’s names, but is also a Sanskrit word that translates to “essence of enjoyment”. That enjoyment starts the moment you walk up to the gorgeous blue front door, custom-made in India, and swells as you walk into the vibrant, rainbow-hued dining room.

Rasa blue door

good luck symbol

local art at RASAThe colorful artwork was all painted by local artist Nandita Madan. I’ve been to a lot of fast casual restaurants, but never one this beautiful and fun.

RASA decor

RASA decor

RASA swing chairs

The Drinks

While grab and go is certainly an option at RASA, the welcoming space encourages diners to stay a while. And for that, you need a drink. There is a vast selection of teas and juices available, along with fresh young coconuts, beer and wine and – my favorite – a masala gin and tonic.

masala gin and tonic

The Bowls

Of course, the main event is the food and it does not disappoint. Rahul and Sahil have put a lot of thought and effort into creating their menu. In fact, they spent two weeks last Fall traveling across India looking for inspiration. As a result, the menu features both common flavors and ingredients along with those that are less known among Western diners.

The menu is divided into two sections. The “We Got You” section offers signature creations that take the guesswork out of ordering. The “You Got This” section allows you to create your own customized bowl.

Rasa bowlsTom and I dipped into both sections. He ordered the “Tikka Chance On Me” featuring chicken tikka, roasted tomato sauce, basmati rice, sautéed spinach, pickled radish, kachumber, toasted cumin yogurt, mint cilantro chutney and lentil crisps.

Tikka Chance on MeOne of the menu items I was most excited to try was the South Indian rice noodles. Most people (myself included) don’t realize that noodles are a part of Indian cuisine. I used them as the base for my customized bowl and added lamb kebab, peanut sesame sauce, charred eggplant, cucumber cubes, masala beets, mint cilantro chutney, mango coconut yogurt and micro greens.

Rasa You Got This bowlWe both loved our bowls, brimming with fresh veggies and incredible flavors. There are so many culinary discoveries waiting to be made at RASA. I can’t wait to taste my way through the rest of the menu. As is common with build-your-own menus, the options can be a little overwhelming. But I’m definitely up for the challenge.

The Sides + Sweets

The sides and sweets are tempting as well. We tasted the pumpkin soup, which is rich and comforting. The Kulfi pops (Indian ice cream pops) were a big hit, both delicious and fun to eat.

Kulfi pop - Indian ice creamIf you’re looking for a fun, delicious addition to your fast casual repertoire, get yourself to RASA stat. I have a feeling it’s about to become DC’s newest addiction – it’s definitely mine.

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Experience DC’s MOLA: Brunch from the Spanish Coast

Need plans for the weekend? There’s a new brunch in town that you definitely don’t want to miss. Mola is a new restaurant (from the team behind Nido) in Mount Pleasant serving coastal Spanish cuisine in a bright, airy setting. We were invited in to preview their brand new brunch, and the experience was a real treat.

Mola dining room

But First, Cocktails

Mola has a wonderful selection of Spanish brunch cocktails that go far beyond the usual suspects. We tried a classic mimosa with beautiful fresh-squeezed orange juice. The vermouth and soda was my favorite, a light concoction featuring Capitoline Rose (DC-made vermouth), soda and Guindilla peppers.

Mola DC brunch

vermouth & sodaWe also enjoyed the rebujito with sherry, muddled mint and limonata, an Andalusian version of the mojito. This was nice and refreshing with a notable punch from the sherry.

Mola DC cocktail

rebujito

Classic Spanish Tapas

A lot of the time when I go out with friends for brunch, we don’t want to eat big, heavy entrées. Mola’s brunch is perfect for groups who want to snack their way through a weekend afternoon while catching up.

Mola DC brunchAs with any Spanish restaurant, small plates are abundantly available at Mola. We were over the moon sampling our way through several of the offerings, each more vibrant and beautiful than the next. The labneh and chickpea purée with ground spiced lamb were my favorites, but everything was fresh and tasty.

tomato bread with anchovies
Tomato bread with house-cured anchovies
house-cured sardines
House-cured sardines with aioli and piquillo peppers
housemade labneh
Housemade labneh served with flatbread, cucumbers, carrots and olive
chickpeak puree ground spiced lamb
Chickpea purée and ground spiced lamb with Guindilla peppers
olive oil and sherry braised artichokes
Olive oil and sherry braised artichoke with herb, egg and pine nut sauce

Savory Mains from Coastal Spain

Those with heftier appetites have plenty of options as well. I loved all of the fresh veggies featured in the main dishes, many of which are topped with perfectly cooked eggs. You can’t miss the huevos rotos, served paella style in a cast iron pan and the fluffy tortilla Española. Like the snacks, these are all great for sharing.

tuna confit salad
Tuna confit salad with piquillo peppers, potatoes, capers and thyme
tortilla espanola
Tortilla Española -with aioli and pea shoot salad
huevos rotos
Huevos rotos – four eggs over a mix of potatoes, onions, peppers and spinach (serves 2)
huevos rotos with serrano ham
Huevos rotos with added Serrano ham
squash pisto
Squash pisto with two poached eggs and Manchego cheese
patatas bravas
Patatas bravas with chili sauce and aioli

Don’t Forget the Sweets

Finish off your meal with a sweet touch. The torrijas are incredible – cinnamon and orange flavored French toast with orange blossom honey that is sinfully reminiscent of funnel cake (in the best way possible).

torrijasBrunch at Mola offers something for everyone with beautiful, fresh plates of food and tasty cocktails. This is the kind of good best enjoyed with friends and family, sharing a delicious meal and catching up. Consider your weekend plans made.


Kacy Kish, DC Contributor

Kacy Kish writes for Mezze Weekly in Washington, D.C. and with our readers she shares her own international culture experiences through food, drink, while highlighting cultural events and more to check out around the DC area. Kacy also writes for her blog, Bad Sentences where you can follow her own journey through food, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Pop into DC’s Bantam King’s Chicken Ramen 101 Class and Learn Everything about this Popular Japanese Dish

The first time I ever had a bowl of ramen at a restaurant, I was completely at a loss as to how to eat it. The giant bowl of spicy broth and tender noodles tantalized my senses, so I dug in anyway. Don’t quote me on this, but there may have been a fork involved which I may have used to twirl the noodles on the spoon like a bowl of spaghetti. As such, I may have gotten a few funny looks from fellow diners. I was hooked after that first bowl, but still never quite knew if I was doing it right until I was properly educated.

Bantam King Chicken Ramen 101
Our education began this summer when we previewed Shaw ramen shop Haikan, but really came full circle after we attended Bantam King’s Chicken Ramen 101 class recently. Led by Chef Katsuya Fukushima, Daisuke Utagawa and Yama Jewayni, the masterminds behind Daikaya, Haikan and Bantam King, three of DC’s top ramen restaurants.

For those who haven’t been to Bantam King yet, I suggest you make a trip immediately. The space, which is housed in a former Burger King (get it?), is lively and fun and just a joy to look at.

Bantam King decor

chicken ramen
This was my first visit, and I instantly fell in love with the Japanese pop culture decor, the ample light streaming in from the windows and the laid-back atmosphere that plays heavily on the building’s fast food past. I have to admit I’d somewhat avoided Bantam King in the past because, well, I don’t love chicken and chicken is definitely king at this ramen shop.

Don’t get me wrong, I like fried chicken and will certainly eat a nice chicken dinner at home but it’s rarely something I seek out at a restaurant. However, I quickly learned that nothing about the chicken offered at Bantam King is ordinary. Far from the slimy, chewy poultry I’ve come to dread eating, every morsel I tasted was high quality and full of flavor.

Bantam King DC

Chicken Ramen 101

Each Chicken Ramen 101 class includes complimentary soft drinks, including a selection of Japanese tea, iced coffee and sodas. The Royal Milk Tea is a delight, and a nice cooling drink should you choose to indulge in a spicier ramen at the end of class.

Bantam King soft drinks

What is Ramen?

This is the first question tackled during the very entertaining class at Bantam King. In order for a bowl of noodle soup to be classified as ramen, it must contain four essential components: stock, tare (basically, the seasoning), noodles and aromatic oil. It must also be prepared after it’s ordered, and not pre-made. Toppings exist to enhance the ramen, but even with topping it’s still ramen as long as it meets the requirements above.

Why Chicken Ramen?

There are approximately 32 different types of ramen in Japan. Daikaya and Haikan both focus on serving authentic Saporro-style ramen, but Bantam King broke the mold by offering strictly chicken ramen varieties. This type of ramen is relatively new in that it doesn’t have a specific region of origin and its reputation and techniques are still forming.

According to Utagawa, “if the soup has chicken as the prominent and dominant ingredient, people call it chicken ramen”. So, you can have a bowl of chicken ramen topped with pork and it’s still chicken ramen. But Bantam King is taking things one step further by offering no other meat but chicken in their ramen.

Chicken Ramen 101 at Bantam King

Stock It to Me

Bantam King makes two delicious chicken-based stocks, a delicate chintan that is light in color (but not in flavor) and a richer paitan, which is darker in color. These stocks are made using such ingredients as seaweed, onions, garlic and ginger as well as chicken necks, feet, skin and bodies. The use of black chicken (also known as a silkie) also serves to enhance the rich flavor.

ramen stock tasting

One of the best parts of the Chicken Ramen 101 class was getting to taste the various components. We were given the opportunity to sample several types of stock. First, we were given a taste of the stock without any added tare. I was worried the taste would be too “chickeny” for me to handle, but I threw caution to the wind and took a long sip.

The verdict? Shock, awe and delight. The stock, made solely from the ingredients listed above with no added salt, was comfort personified. I whispered to Tom that this was exactly what we needed the next time one of us was sick. And it only got better from there as we sampled the shio and shoyu stocks, created by the addition of tare. All of Bantam King’s tare is made in Japan using a top-secret recipe, adding to the authenticity of every bowl.

What’s in a Noodle?

The noodles are arguably the most fun part of eating a bowl of ramen, and Bantam King takes their noodles very seriously. That’s the thing about these guys, they have an incredible commitment to honoring the culture and authenticity in every ingredient they bring to the table. It’s apparent when you listen to them speak, and even more so in each slurp you take.

Good quality ramen noodles should be springy, pleasantly chewy and actually have flavor. It’s a misconception that the noodles should simply soak up the flavors of the liquid; they should actually have their own distinguishable taste. Like the tare, Bantam King’s noodles are shipped from Japan to ensure consistency and authenticity. Both an innovative milling technology and the use of Saporro well water set these noodles apart from any you could find outside of Japan.

ramen preparation

Topping It Off

While toppings are not an essential part of ramen, they are still a very important factor. The toppings should work in harmony with the rest of the ramen. All components should taste delicious on their own, but should not overpower the bowl. We sampled two of the most common toppings – menma, or fermented bamboo, and nitamago, or soft-boiled egg. Bantam King also offers shredded chicken, dandelion greens, white onions, nori, corn and roasted chicken quarters as toppings, just to name a few.

ramen bowls

How To Eat Your Ramen

Class concludes with the best lesson of all – how to eat your ramen. Utagawa is an expert on eating ramen, and will give you the full lowdown on exactly how to dig in so as to avoid looking a fool like I did on my first try. In the meantime, here are the basics.

ramen made to orderFirst, you should begin eating your ramen as soon as it’s set in front of you. Don’t worry about being polite, that doesn’t matter here. You don’t want your noodles to continue to cook in the broth and get soggy.

bantam king chicken miso ramen
Lift the bowl up and let the steam and aromas captivate your senses, and then take a sip of the broth. Next, pull out the noodles, making sure to smell them first, and then slurp them while looking down, face over the bowl. Do not worry about what you look like or if you’re getting anything on your shirt – just go for it!

shoyu chicken ramen
I could not believe how delicious these bowls were to my once chicken-resistant palate. We went simple on the toppings, but did opt to add bata (butter) at a server’s recommendation. The dandelion greens were one of my favorite elements, the subtle bitterness deepening the already complex flavor profile in these harmonious bowls of goodness.

We learned so many other fascinating details throughout the hour-long class, but I’m not going to give them to you word for word because this is definitely something you should experience for yourself. If you’re a ramen enthusiast, or just curious what the fuss is all about – go! If you’re looking for a fun first date or an unusual outing with your friends – go! If you need a new way to entertain your kids – go!

While you’re there, be sure to try the boiled gyoza. These may be my new favorite dumplings in DC, with flavors that build and shift in mesmerizing ways as you eat them. Trust me on this.

Bantam King dumplings
And of course, don’t forget the fried chicken, either the platter or on their brand new fried chicken sandwich.

Bantam King new chicken sandwich
These tasty sandwiches are available for dining in or carrying out. Rumor also has it that ramen to-go is in the works as well. Stay tuned for more details on that!

Each Chicken Ramen 101 class costs $35, inclusive of tax and tip, and comes with a soft drink and bowl of ramen. For more information, future class dates and reservations call (202) 733-2612.


Kacy Kish, DC Contributor

Kacy Kish writes for Mezze Weekly in Washington, D.C. and with our readers she shares her own international culture experiences through food, drink, while highlighting cultural events and more to check out around the DC area. Kacy also writes for her blog, Bad Sentences where you can follow her own journey through food, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

DC Georgetown’s Via Umbria Will Transport You To Italy

A trip to Italy is at the very top of my bucket list. The wine, the food, the ancient architecture – it all beckons to me on a regular basis. Until I make it there, I’ll be spending a lot of time at Via Umbria in Georgetown.

Via Umbria DC

This new cafe and market brings the best of Italy to DC by offering cooking classes, authentic Italian products and luxurious Italian dinners in a beautiful and welcoming space.

Via Umbra groceries

Italian fabrics

Via Umbria fresh produce
Via Umbria also offers an extensive selection of Italian wines, many from lesser known regions. I was surprised by how affordable many of the bottles were.

Via Umbria wine shop
I was invited to try one of Via Umbria’s Italian dinners highlighting cuisine from Liguria, a small coastal region in the Northeast part of the country near the border of France.

Dinner started out with a brief wine tasting of Ligurian wines for purchase to pair with dinner. I had never tried these varietals before, but enjoyed them both very much. We chose a bottle of the Pigato, which was light, crisp and refreshing.

Via Umbra Ligurian wine
We were also excited to find a very affordable bottle of Sciava that my friend Diane had recently recommended. This wine is beautiful, and if you ever see it you should definitely grab a bottle or five. It goes with practically anything, and is also pretty delicious on its own.

2014 Galea Schiava
After choosing our wine, we went upstairs for dinner. The beautiful, bright space and gorgeous table piled with Ligurian antipasti was a true delight.

Via Umbria communal dining space

Ligurian Dinner with Alessandro Anfosso

Via Umbria Ligurian dinner
I loved the communal seating, which gave us the opportunity to chat with the other diners at the table. We sat next to a lovely couple from Denmark and across from the dinner’s host Alessandro Anfosso. Sharing food, wine and stories with fellow food lovers always makes me positively giddy.

talking about Italy
Via Umbria’s head chef Johanna Hellrigl outdid herself with the night’s spread. The antipasti course consisted of baked mussels with pomodoro and Parmigiano Reggiano, tuna stuffed peppers, calamari and crostini with an assortment of spreads from Alessandro’s family company based out of Liguria.

Via Umbra antipasti
The primo course offered a paste duo of traditional Pansotti ravioli in walnut sauce and Ligurian trofie pasta with sage pesto. The pesto was out of this world. We picked up a jar to recreate this dish at home.

Via Umbria pasta
For secondo, an involtini of salmon with olives and sun-dried tomatoes, served over spinach.

Via Umbria chef
This may have been the first salmon dish I’ve ever eaten in its entirety, the sun-dried tomatoes and salty olives wooing me past my distaste for salmon.

Involtini of Salmon
After a dessert course of Italian cookies, we returned to the shop to shop some of the flavors we’d tasted at dinner and spent the entire ride home talking about everything we want to buy next time and events we want to try out.

Via Umbria Georgetown
If you’re looking to learn more about Italian cuisine or purchase hard-to-find Italian products, meats and cheeses you cannot go wrong with Via Umbria. Check out their upcoming events page for a list of upcoming wine tastings, cooking classes and special dinners.


About the Author
Kacy Kish writes for Mezze Weekly in Washington, D.C. and with our readers she shares her own international culture experiences through food, drink, while highlighting cultural events and more to check out around the DC area. Kacy also writes for her blog, Bad Sentences where you can follow her own journey through food, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

DC’s Purple Patch Delights Washingtonians With Filipino Family Recipes

I had a goal of trying both of DC’s Filipino restaurants in 2016. After having such a good experience at Bad Saint, I couldn’t wait to get to Purple Patch to compare and delight in more flavorful food.

Purple Patch has a very different vibe than Bad Saint. While Bad Saint is that dark, handsome mysterious boy cloaked in drama, Purple Patch is bright and cheery and eager to please (which they do, by accepting reservations). Located in a two-story row house in Mount Pleasant, this restaurant serving Filipino American food is as cute and cozy and they come. I loved all of the fresh flowers and local art on the walls.

We were in the area on a Sunday afternoon to get our dog groomed, so we decided to stop in for brunch. I started with a standard bloody Mary, while Tom had the bacon-infused variety, both very solid.

Purple Patch bloody mary
We were the last brunch patrons of the day, having had a minor snafu with the groomers that caused us to push back our reservation, so we ordered quickly and decisively. Up first, a side of papaya salad because it’s one of my favorite dishes.

Purple Patch papaya salad
Compared to a Thai or Laotian papaya salad, this Filipino version was far less spicy than I was expecting. But what it lacked in spice it made up for with tangy freshness. I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to order it again, but it was a nice and light start to the meal.

For entrees, we went both savory and sweet. First up was the tapsilog, cured beef with two fried eggs, garlic fried rice, tomatoes and scallions.

Purple Patch tapsilog
This is the type of breakfast I love, straight forward and filling. The rice seemed more like plain white rice than fried rice, which may have had to do with us being there at the end of service. Or I could just be clueless about rice. Either way, I enjoyed this dish.

The real star of the meal, however, was the ube (purple yam) pancakes with lechon kawali (crispy fried pork) and macapuno (coconut) syrup.

Purple Patch ube pancakes
This was incredible. The pancakes were dense, but still soft and fluffy and the coconut syrup was out of this world. I don’t typically order pancakes at breakfast because they never keep me full, but since they were made with purple yams they definitely had more staying power. I liked the pork, but would probably order the pancakes on their own next time, with extra syrup, which I could quite definitely eat by itself with a spoon.

We rushed out to allow the restaurant to start transitioning to dinner service, but were wowed by this unassuming restaurant.

I overheard the owner, Patrice Cleary, talking to a table about the hard work she put into opening the restaurant and her desire for Washingtonians to experience authentic Filipino cuisine. Cleary uses her mother’s recipes for some of the dishes, and the restaurant’s passion for and commitment to educating diners on these lesser known foods shows in the presentation of each dish.

I definitely need to return to Purple Patch to try their dinner offerings. My love affair with this cuisine is only just getting started.


About the Author
Kacy Kish writes for Mezze Weekly in Washington, D.C. and with our readers she shares her own international culture experiences through food, drink, while highlighting cultural events and more to check out around the DC area. Kacy also writes for her blog, Bad Sentences where you can follow her own journey through food, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

A Taste of Laos at DC’s Thip Khao Proves Spicy and Sweet

Thip Khao is the only Laotian restaurant in DC, serving some of the spiciest and most flavorful food you’ll anywhere. Like the last time we dined at Thip Khao, we were presented with a small freebie to begin our meal, two slices of fresh cucumber topped with a spicy paste (chili and shrimp paste would be my guess). My husband Tom pointed out that although this particular starter seems a bit random to someone unfamiliar with Lao cuisine, it’s a good introduction to the spice level to come. 

thip khao lao food dc
Thip Khao cucumber starter with spicy pasteThip Khao cucumber starter with spicy paste | Credit: Badsentences.com

We knew there were dishes from our first visit that we had to order again, such as the Tam Som, or papaya salad with fish sauce, cherry tomatoes, lime, palm sugar, Thai chilies and peanuts.

Laotian food in washington dc Thip Khao Tam Som
Thip Khao Tam Som | Credit: Badsentences.com

Having been hurt by our spice hubris in the past, we requested this dish “medium” spicy, which was much more manageable than our first rendezvous but still spicy enough that we continued to empty water glass after water glass.

Thip Khao Laotian food in DC - Thai iced tea
Thai Iced Tea | Credit: Badsentences.com

Even more useful were tall glasses of Thai iced tea (Tom) and Thai iced coffee (me) that really took the edge off with their sweet creaminess. Up next was another old favorite, Siin Haeng, which is sun-dried beef with ginger sesame seeds and sriracha.

Laotian food in Washinton DC at Thip Khao
Sun-dried Beef | Credit: Badsentences.com

This crispy, slightly chewy yet inexplicably tender beef never ceases to amaze me. The spice level is moderate, but builds ferociously over time. I think I could eat this for lunch every single day. Up next, an order of Lao Curry Puff, stuffed with curried potatoes and served with sweet and sour sauce.

Curry Puffs - Laotian food in Washington DC
Curry Puffs | Credit: Badsentences.com

These would be a great option for someone who wants to experience Lao food without as much spice. The sweetness of the sauce was the perfect contrast to the soft, fluffy curried potatoes. A delicious dish, but if I’d had it to do again I probably would have skipped them in order to save room for everything else.

In truth, we were full when our next two dishes arrived, which had more or less been the plan so we could take home plenty of leftovers to relive this deliciousness a second time. We’d originally wanted to order the Oob Bai (goat stew) from the jungle menu, but they were out for the day. Thrown for a loop, we instead ordered two alternate dishes. You know, just to be sure we got something good.

First up, Naem Khao, crispy coconut rice, lime, scallions, sour pork, peanuts and cilantro, served with lettuce wraps.

Thip Khao in Washington DC - Laotian cuisine
Naem Khao | Credit: Badsentences.com

The crispy coconut rice lived up to its name providing excellent texture to the dish. This reminded me of a more flavorful, less salty version of P.F. Chang’s famous lettuce wraps. I could only eat a few bites, before moving on to the next.

The Kua Khao Jaew Bong was the only item we ordered off the mains section, proving that you can more than make a meal out of the starters and salads at Thip Khao. But if you’re hungry, this entreé is an excellent choice. The spicy fried rice dish features chili paste, egg, fish sauce, onions and Thai basil. Innocuous at first, each bite reveals something new. I most enjoyed the bites full of tender egg and sweet sausage, some of the best I’ve ever eaten.

Thip Khao Laotian food in DC
Kua Khao Jaew Bong | Credit: Badsentences.com

I’d hoped to try the black sticky rice dessert I’ve drooled over several times on Instagram (an amazing account to follow, Chef Seng’s passion for food is contagious), but we could justify no further eating and decided to save it for next time. And there will be a next time, because not only is this food at Thip Khao truly delicious and unique, it’s also affordable. An over-the-top lunch totaled just over $50, stretching into two full meals for two people.

_________________________________________________________________________

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This post originally appeared on Kacy’s blog, Bad Sentences. Kacy is also a cultural ambassador for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.

Why You’ll Find Filipino Food at Bad Saint in Washingon DC Real Good

Before the Winter Storm Jonas descended upon us, Tom and I made sure we had an epic meal to keep us satisfied during the snowy days ahead. Feeling adventurous, we opted for Bad Saint, a hot new Filipino restaurant in Columbia Heights (also on my list of DC goals for the year).

The real impetus for the meal was the fact that I had a haircut that evening, and I’m a firm believer that one should never waste a good blowout. While my tresses were being tended, Tom went over to Bad Saint to put our name in. Yes, this is another restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, makes patrons wait in line and often several additional hours for a table and is still one of the most sought-after meals in the city. Masochistic it may be, but we Washingtonians will do anything to say “Oh yeah, I’ve been there.” Obviously, I’m no exception. Know thyself.

Luckily, there are several places to distract yourself nearby while you wait. Room 11 and Maple are both great for drinks or hey, you could even get your shopping fix at the nearby Target. Just be sure you can get back to the restaurant within ten minutes or so. Wait patiently, and soon your phone will beep with the delightful news that it’s time to eat.

Bad Saint drinks
Bad Saint drinks / Badsentences.com

The place is small, wee, cozy, teeny-tiny. There are only two real tables and all other seating is counter-top. We were seated in a row of six stools facing a mirror, with a handy beverage ledge to save space for food. The mirror gave me ample opportunity to check out my sassy blowout, but I typically don’t enjoy staring at myself when I eat. Personal preference I suppose.

Bad Saint has a small drink menu, with a selection of cocktails, a few wines and several beers. We opted for canned brews – a blood orange gose (loving goses right now) for me and an IPA for Tom. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they offered free sparkling water in addition to flat.

Bad Saint Ginisang Gulay
Bad Saint / Ginisang Gulay / Badsentences.com

The menu is broken down into vegetarian, seafood and meat options. We ordered mostly vegetarian with one seafood dish, starting with the Ginisang Gulay consisting of romanesco, bok choy and baby squash in a savory sauce. I loved the slightly charred taste of the vegetables, which were tender but not mushy. The romanesco was a fun addition, as it’s a food I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten before. The dish was served with a bowl of rice, but I found I enjoyed it more on its own.

Next up, a big bowl of  Pangit Bihon Guisado with rice noodles, wood ear mushrooms and lemon oil. (No, this meal was not low carb. Yes, it was worth it)

Bad Saint pangit bihon guisado
Bad Saint / Pangit Bihon Guisado / Badsentences.com

Now, because I’ve never had Filipino food I can’t really speak to the authenticity here, but this dish definitely made me an instant fan of the cuisine. The flavors were so vibrant, packing a big punch from the lemon oil. A fairly straight-forward noodle dish elevated by complex textures and flavors, this will satisfy both picky and adventurous appetites.

Our next dish was to me the most exotic, the Ginisang Ampalaya with bitter melon, farm egg and preserved black bean.

Bad Saint Ginisang Ampalaya
Bad Saint / Ginisang Ampalaya / Badsentences.com

This was my first time trying bitter melon, which I didn’t know anything about other than a few references from Top Chef. It was definitely bitter, but in a palatable way and balanced nicely with the other flavors of the dish. It felt like the fanciest egg scramble in the world and was my favorite dish of the night.

Lastly, we had the Ukoy, freshwater shrimp fritters with sweet potato and cilantro.

Bad Saint Ukoy
Bad Saint / Ukoy / Badsentences.com

This tangle of fried sweet potatoes and shrimps (head on) was quite the surprise when it hit our table. It was a risky order for me, because I’m far from the world’s biggest shrimp fan. But I was assured by the staff that I would like it anyway. And I did, although maybe not quite as much as the other dishes. The thin strips of sweet potato were delicious paired with the spicy dipping sauce, and even the shrimp were pretty good (probably excellent if you like shrimp). My mother would likely faint if she witnessed me eating shrimp with eyeballs (I was a picky child), but it just goes to show that palates do evolve over time.

By this point, we were quite satisfied and even had a doggie bag of leftover veggies and noodles to take home, but I needed to know what Filipino dessert was like. You know, for research.

Bad Saint bilo bilo
Bad Saint / Bilo Bilo / Badsentences.com

The bilo bilo, a purple rice porridge of sorts with coconut flavors and lots of crunch was one of the most unique desserts I’ve ever had. It was warm, rich and comforting. I’d actually love to have this for breakfast every morning.

I was very impressed with Bad Saint. Every dish exploded with flavors and opened up a whole new cuisine with which I can’t wait to become more familiar.

Although the wait can be long and arduous, the price point is excellent. We left with a reasonable bill, full stomachs and leftovers enough to stretch two additional meals. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – DC needs more places where you can eat well without spending your entire paycheck on a meal, and Bad Saint offers just that.

Next up, I need to try Purple Patch to further develop my taste for Filipino food and I’ll definitely be back to Bad Saint to try the rest of the dishes on the menu.

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This post originally appeared on Kacy’s website and blog. Read the post here, titled “Bad Saint, Real Good“. Kacy is also a cultural ambassador for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.

That First Slurp of Ramen at Yona, DC’s Japanese Hotspot

When I first moved from Oklahoma to the DC area, I lived in Arlington’s questionably named neighborhood of Ballston. The area was convenient to my job in Tyson’s Corner, and was filled with people my age overpaying on rent and going out to the copious sports bars in the area (one of those people turned out to be my darling husband).

But that was really all there was to do – drink cheap beer and eat wings at the half-dozen sports bars lining the streets. Not that I don’t enjoy doing those things, I very much do (and it was all I could afford at the time), but sometimes a person needs a little variety.
Eventually, Tom and I decided to move into the district, and in a silly twist of fate, the week after we signed our lease I landed a new job in, wouldn’t ya know, Ballston. For the past three plus years we’ve lived in DC and commuted back into Virginia. Now, Tom and I both work in Ballston and this little neighborhood where we met and fell in love has grown up right along with us.

In the past year, dozens of new and exciting restaurants have opened in the area – several of them owned by DC celebrity chef, Mike Isabella. The first was Kapnos Taverna, an offshoot of the successful DC Greek restaurant of the same name, followed by Pepita, a Mexican concept specializing in cocktails.

This week, a third Isabella concept hit the scene, with Chef Jonah Kim formerly of Pabu in Baltimore at the helm. Suddenly, Ballston is hip!

[Editors note: this sotry first appeared on Kacy’s blog in 2015, when the restaurant first opened.]

Yona opened on Monday, November 30th 2015, after much anticipation, serving up hot ramen and other Japanese dishes.

Yona Ballston
Badsentences.com

I went all paparazzi with this photo. On the right is George Pagonis, Kapnos executive chef and Top Chef Season 12 competitor. On the right is Jonah Kim himself.

Yona dining room
Badsentences.com

We visited on opening day, being that I was actually in the office (I work from home three or more days a week) and it was raining and gross and a bowl of ramen sounded incredible. As you can see, the dining room is rather small making for a cozy dining experience. Most seating is communal. Tom and I were seated next to each other, instead of across from each other.

I like the idea of the open seating, but would have preferred if we’d sat across from each other so we didn’t feel like we were constantly eavesdropping on the guys sitting across from us.

Tom arrived before me and ordered a Japanese white cream soda while he pondered the small but somewhat mystifying menu.

Yona Japanese soda
Badsentences.com

They offer a variety of these sodas (melon, grape and the white cream I believe) along with American sodas and several teas. I opted for water, since salty foods like ramen can sometimes give me a migraine if I don’t stay properly hydrated.

A caveat of going to a restaurant on the day it opens is that you know there will be at least a few kinks in the service. While our servers were all very polite and attentive, we received very little information about the menu items. This was a bit of a problem since I recognized only about 20% of the ingredients on the menu.

I asked what the difference was between the first ramen choice, Miso Porky, and the second, Tonkotsu ramen, and was told that the first one had pork while the second one did not. Perhaps not the most helpful, but I’ll give it a pass on opening day.

Tom went with the porky version, which definitely had a strong essence of miso that I found very enjoyable. It also had the slightest bit of spice from the kimchi topping.

Yona miso porky
Badsentences.com

I went with the non-pork version, which oddly enough still had one piece of pork in it. I assume this was a mistake, but maybe bonus pork is a thing?

The tonkotsu broth was very smoky, with ginger being the predominant flavor. It was good, but a touch too salty. We both thought the eggs and noodles were cooked to perfection, but wished there had been some heat to the dishes (spice-wise, the temperature was on point). We noticed after ordering that you can add a spice bomb at an extra cost, but we had already started eating and didn’t want to wait to order it and for it to come out. Next time, I’ll definitely add spice to kick things up a notch.

And will there be a next time? Absolutely. I won’t lie, this is not the best ramen that I’ve had in the DC area (Daikaya still has my heart) but I love that it’s right down the street from my office on days when I need a warm bowl of noodles.

The communal seating offered us a peek at some of the small plates, which I definitely want to sample in the future – the uni waffles, dry-fried wings and crispy Brussels sprouts in particular.

Yona is open for lunch through this week and will begin dinner service on Friday December 4th. Reservations can be made here.

After all those celebrity chef name drops, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that the new season of Top Chef premieres tonight with THREE DC chefs competing for the title. I’m a sucker for this show, especially when there are local chefs to root for. Tell me I’m not the only one still watching?

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This post originally appeared on Kacy’s website and blog. Read the post here, titled “First Slirp at Yona in Ballston“. Kacy is also a cultural ambassador for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.

Harper Macaw Gives DC a Chocolatey Taste of Brazil

Harper Macaw is a new artisanal chocolate factory in DC. Their grand opening was this past December, and my husband and I just happened to show up in time for their first ever tour of the space. But first, free hot chocolate. Made from pure chocolate, not powder, this little shot of hot chocolate was decadent and heavenly. From the first sip, I knew we wouldn’t regret the drive out to the factory. I have to say, for a store’s opening day, they had everything worked out incredibly well.

Harper Macaw Chocolate Factory DC
Harper Macaw Chocolate Factory / Badsentences.com

A tour costs $5 and includes a chocolate tasting at the end. We paid in advance and were told to help ourselves to more free chocolate samples on the beautiful wall of chocolate.

Harper Macaw hot chocolate
Harper Macaw Hot Chocolate / Badsentences.com

I passed on this, but Tom obliged, reporting back that they were all very good. I started to get even more excited to learn more about this new venture.

Harper Macaw merchandise
Harper Macaw / Badsentences.com

One of the things that caught my eye when reading about Harper Macaw was that they source all of their cocoa beans from Brazil and that every product they sell protects and restores deforested or vulnerable rainforest in Northeast Brazil. As a DC resident who recently spent five months living in Brazil, I was instantly drawn to Harper Macaw’s mission and our visit only made me respect their initiative more.

Harper Macaw flags
Harper Macaw / Badsentences.com

Run by a husband and wife team, Sarah and Colin Hartman, Harper Macaw is hoping to change the artisanal chocolate scene for the better. Sarah, a chocolate maker from Sao Paulo, seems to be well poised for success.

Harper Macaw DC tour
Harper Macaw / Badsentences.com

Colin, a U.S. Marine Veteran, explained during our tour that compared to the coffee and craft beer industries, little is really known about chocolate making on a craft level. The big companies keep the majority of their recipes and information to themselves, so startups have to be innovative to make it work.

Harper Macaw cocoa beans from Brazil
Harper Macaw cocoa beans from Brazil / Badsentences.com

Our tour started in the storage room, where giant bags of cocoa beans wait to become delicious bars of chocolate. Harper Macaw works closely with its cocoa bean farmers to ensure they practice sustainable farming, which helps to maintain tree cover and increases biodiversity in the rainforests. These practices help both the wildlife in the surrounding regions as well as to raise the level of income potential for the farmers.

Harper Macaw tour
Harper Macaw Tour / Badsentences.com

Here, the beans are cleaned, classified and roasted before going through a machine called a winnower, which cracks the beans and separates the chocolate nibs, which are then used to create the final product.

Next, the chocolate is put into a conche machine which creates a chocolate liquor prior to the refinement process. We were offered a taste of the liquor, which looked a lot like cake batter but didn’t quite taste like it. It was gritty and slightly bitter, but you could definitely start to taste the familiar flavor of chocolate.

Harper Macaw tempered chocolate
Harper Macaw tempered chocolate / Badsentences.com

After that, the chocolate is tempered to bind the crystals from the cocoa butter and the sugar so that the chocolate dries in the right chemical structure. The chocolate is then poured into molds and once dry, wrapped in recyclable paper instead of foil. Besides being environmentally friendly, this keeps the chocolate from absorbing any outside flavors.

I’ve definitely dumbed the process down here. While I’m pretty much an expert chocolate eater, I’m far from knowledgeable in chocolate making. I highly recommend visiting the factory and taking a tour for more in-depth information. The tour concludes with a tasting of all four of Harper Macaw’s chocolate varieties.

Harper Macaw chocolate tasting
Harper Macaw chocolate tasting / Badsentences.com

Sarah joined us to teach us how to properly taste chocolate and give us more information about her products. We were pretty excited about this part. When tasting chocolate, you should first rub the chocolate between your fingers to get it to melt slightly which will release the flavors and aromas of the cocoa beans. Don’t mind my super cute food-safe hair net, or the guilty look on my face, I was just massaging my chocolate as instructed.

Once you place the chocolate in your mouth, take a few bites but then allow it to melt completely in your mouth instead of continuing to chew it. This will allow you to experience all of the flavors of the chocolate, of which there are many more than I realized.

I’m usually not a huge fan of dark chocolate, but I may now be converted. We started with Harper Macaw’s 52% milk chocolate, which is decadent like a good milk chocolate should be while still offering a lot of complexity. The varieties got darker as we progressed from 67% to 74% to 77%. Each version had different flavor profiles, with a lot of different nutty and fruity flavors I wouldn’t usually associate with chocolate. I think my favorite was the 74%, but it’s hard to choose.

Harper Macaw Holiday Survival Stash
Harper Macaw Holiday Survival Stash / Badsentences.com

Chocolate bars cost $8 each at the factory and $9 online and offsite (the bars are also sold at Glen’s Garden Market). They also sell chocolate nibs, fresh-baked goods and hot chocolate at the factory. If you still need a few stocking stuffers or gifts for your coworkers, I highly recommend checking out Harper Macaw Chocolate Factory and supporting a new local DC business along with forest conservation efforts in Brazil.

Also, a chocolate tour and tasting would make for an excellent first date, or second, or thousandth in our case. Tom was actually really impressed with me for finding such a fun way to do our Christmas shopping. The fact that we got to drink beer next door at DC Brau afterward didn’t hurt either.

For the address and detailed information to plan your visit, click here.

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kacy runs the DC blog, Bad Sentences, and is also a cultural ambassador for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.