Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chop't! You have been chopped!

Once I got into my late 20's I noticed that I couldn't eat whatever the hell I wanted. I had to actually be careful. This type of b.s. is what has led me to recently count my calories. Now that I've downloaded the Lose-it app , I've most recently become calorie obsessed. I'm sure my friends are starting to get annoyed at how I point out how many calories their lunch has in it all the time - I think I'm even beginning annoy myself. I recently turned a friend away from eating bagels - the wise choice obviously as one bagel can have about 600 calories in it - but did I make her life better? Questionable.

In my early calorie counting days I'd hover over to a salad shop to get a salad for lunch - assuming that the definition of salad itself meant "low calorie." I was wrong. These days a salad can come with fried chicken in it (no joke!). When I realized upon request you can get calorie menus from most chain establishments around DC, I happened to ask Chop't for their calorie menu and was astonished. How can a salad be almost 700 calories! That is more than half my intake for the day! I'd been operating like a fool for at least 6 months under the false assumption that a salad was a salad.

For my body size and height, my limit is 1350 calories a day if I wish to lose1-2 pounds a week. Therefore, I need to stay in the 400 calorie mark or under. Living in Washington DC, Chop't and Sweetgreen dominate the salad market. Both venues can provide you with calorie menus upon request. However, only Sweetgreen will serve you fresh produce from the weekly farmers market - making your salad all the more nutritious (the less time between the farm and you, the more nutrients it holds).

Chop't feels like a corporate nightmare - the lines are way too long, its loud, chaotic, and you can predictably find bacon in your vegetarian salad because they are so sloppy at the counters. To make it even worse, their salads are gigantic! Just because it's a salad doesn't mean I need twice the normal sized portion that a monster might consume. I mean, look at that thing! Totally unnecessary. So typically American in its over-sized portions. You can't even request a half salad, its a full salad at the full salad price or nothing! Plus, their signature salads are just signature boring. Even their ingredients are simple stock salad ingredients, not much exciting here. Tomatoes, cheese, beans, etc. Booooooo-ring.

Sweetgreen surpasses Chop't any day. It has a more local feel - fitting since they serve local ingredient options like sprouts, apples, and cheeses. It does not offer the oh-so-tempting fried chicken as a topping for your salad, but to make up for it they have the tastiest signature salads to offer. The Santorini is my favorite, sans the grapes (who puts red grapes in their salad?! weird!). Shrimp, feta cheese, mint and a fresh lemon squeeze - just the right thing for summer and less than 500 calories. All of their signature salads are delicious, complex and well thought out concoctions. Making your own? Stick to the fresh ingredients from the market and you're sure to make the healthy, right choice that is uber delicious. I never feel like I have to eat a salad here, it's more like I get to eat one.

To put it over the finish line - I recently found out that Sweetgreen sells Klean Kanteen - made in my very own home town of Chico, California. Woot! Great company, great product. This makes Sweetgreen even cooler in my book.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Feel free to ridicule me

The Burger Joint 1514 Connecticut Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20036

I shouldn't even be admitting this....but I finally went to The Burger Joint in Dupont Circle. That's not the part I shouldn't be admitting to - the thing I'm ashamed of is that instead of ordering a burger - the thing they are known for, the reason for the quote that you see plastered all over the place in this establishment, "the one burger you MUST HAVE before you die" - I ordered a turkey burger. I know! It's the worst thing I could have done. Why would I go there and not order what they are known for? What kind of human being am I?! Argh! I just didn't feel like eating beef, I couldn't help it. In fact the entire reason I went there was by default - the line at Sweetgreen was too long and I was starving! So, naturally I couldn't reasonably justify getting a hamburger instead of a salad because of a long line! The truth is however, the turkey burger wasn't bad. It has gorgonzola cheese in it! When you bite into it, the melted cheese oozes out, and its so incredibly juicy! The buns, well, I could just eat those by themselves. They are so tasty, sweet in fact, but not a disgusting wonder bread type sweet, a gourmet quality to them. Seriously, give me five more of those things.

So, the conclusion I've made is if they can make a turkey burger that great, that complex, that delicious - their hamburger is likely to be totally awesome. I'll try that next.

Besides the food - there were a couple of things that were incredibly obnoxious about the place. 1) I think they find it "cute" that they place show tunes on their stereo, maybe they think it's their quirky thing they do and people will think it's "fun" to listen to it. It's not. It's annoying and I hate it.

2) They have those buzzer things they give you when you place your order - you know, the ones that light up and vibrate when your order is ready. It's stupid. I'm standing right there, I have an order number, the burger is sitting in front of me, instead of lighting up my gigantor-sized gadget, just say the number out loud. Then, I can easily reach across the isle and pick up my order. There is no need for you to take so long to figure out how to punch the code into the system to make my gadget light up. Seriously, sometimes simplicity is the way to go.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pastrami on rye please!

Carnegie Deli
854 7th Avenue at 55th Street
New York, New York, 10019

Today was the first time I tried a quality hot pastrami on rye. Before Carnegie Deli, the only pastrami sandwich I knew was from Togo's in Chico, California. The pastrami at Togo's growing up had a rubbery texture that as a kid I really dug, as an adult I find mildly disgusting. The pastrami at Carnegie Deli however is like an entirely different animal. I had no idea that pastrami wasn't a chewy meat that took you a few minutes to swallow down. I had no idea that it actually has a light texture to it in comparison to what it looks like. I also hadn't the slightest clue that good pastrami is not filled with salt, you can actually taste the meat. It was delicious, it actually falls apart in your mouth its so tender.

Carnegie Deli is most definitely a great place turned touristy - but even so it's still maintained its genuineness. I felt like I was in an authentic Jewish deli - maybe that's because the owner was walking around talking to patrons with his thick accent. It put a big smile on my face.

I read an article a few days ago I believe in the New York times criticizing New York City deli's for having lost their authenticity and lowering their quality in the interest in catering to too many tourists. If that's what Carnegie has done, I suppose I didn't notice.

Ace Hotel reminds me of home

20 West 29th St
New York, NY 10001

The Ace Hotel wreaks of freshly ground Stumptown coffee beans. I take very deep breaths while I'm sitting in the lobby to soak in the utter intoxication of the smell as much as I can before I have to depart and eventually head back to DC. Waking up to this smell in the morning alone is reason enough to stay at the Ace. But there is much more than the coffee that makes this place worthy of my company.

The decor reminds me of Portland, Oregon - one of the many homes I've had throughout my life. Natural wood products, steel made furniture, old school couches and old style arm chairs, huge white pillars shooting up to the roof, white Christmas lights around the windows, wool blankets and a bit of Led Zeppelin playing on the stereo.

Unfortunately, the people remind you of Portland too (this is the downside of the entire experience really). Shaggy beards, plaid shirts, the same "I don't care what I look like because I'm not superficial" attitude. Sneakers, mac laptops, iPhones, square framed glasses, pale sun-ridden faces, looks of despair, looks of disapproval if you're dressed to square.

The reason why I like the feel of my Portland, Oregon home is because life was slower there, more relaxed and a bit more intentional when it came to enjoying the good things in life. They know how to appreciate good coffee, good food, good wine and good quality products. It shows at the Ace right down to the soap they put in your hotel room, it smells like the long hikes I used to take it Tryon Creek park in between my law school exams. A good and bad flashback.

The Ace Hotel is definitely a 10 on the Lupa scale.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bolognese at craftbar gets a 7 on the Lupa scale

900 Broadway
New York, New York

I have a scale I employ when rating food and drink. It's called the Lupa scale - based on Lupa Osteria in New York city, a Mario Batali establishment. Lupa is the absolute best eating experience I've had in the United States. Best ambiance, best staff, best prices, best wine and best food. It is a mind blowing experience. Since my first visit to Lupa nothing compares. Thus, I rate all of my dining experiences on a scale of 1-10. 10 being the equivalent of the all-amazing Lupa Osteria.

Tonight I went to craftbar in New York City to check out what I've heard is a great experience. I give it a 7 on the Lupa scale. I had a glass of a Spanish Malbec, the baby beat and goat cheese salad and a serving of the Cavetelli Bolognese for my entree. There was nothing wrong with my meal, nothing to complain about, nothing overcooked or overdone. It was just lacking something exciting. Maybe I'm so spoiled now that I've come to a stage in my life where I expect to be moved by every dining experience and when I'm not, I leave with a sense of disappointment. I know Tom Collichio doesn't cook here himself, but I figured the man I have a crush on from Top Chef should deliver, if not only to keep my infatuation alive. How is a bald man so sexy???

I'll admit, the salad was delicious, but it's a goat cheese and beat salad, it's not that complex. I've had a lot of delicious goat cheese and beat salads. They add a little candied kumquat in there to make it interesting, but it just blends in with the beat flavor so you don't really get a sense of uniqueness to the dish as I'm sure they intended. The cavetelli bolognese I've had better at Sette, that run of the mill Italian cafe on Connecticut back in DC. The cavetelli seemed homemade, a little flavorless unfortunately. However, the lamb bolognese was quite delicious itself - you could tell they crafted it carefully to have just the right combination of flavor and texture. I could eat a bowl of the bolognese, you can keep your cavetelli. The most enticing thing about the place is the bar, I'd love to sit at that bar for a couple of hours just to soak in my environment.

Lupa has yet to be topped. I'm still on the hunt.

The Island Kicker

The Islander
1201 U Street Northwest
Washington DC

The Islander by some is referred to an old beaten up cruise ship or most recently overhead as, "the island version of Denny's." With its palm tree wall paper and slow service it definitely does have an island feel - not sure it's the kind of island feel one is looking for. Despite all its shortcomings, for some reason I really really like this place. It's not fancy, it's not impressive, it's just funny.

The first time I strolled into this place was randomly on a Friday night when I noticed a live band playing some Motown music that instantly put a smile on my face and folks about 10-20 years older than me dancing their hearts out. When I walked in and sat at the bar, the family owned staff greeted me with a smile. I ordered a rum punch, and it left much to be desired. When the waiter offered to kick it up a notch to something called "The Kicker" it changed everything. The kicker is a drink invented by their bartender Darryl - apparently he's been making them since he was 14 years old (at least that's what he said). Its a ungodly concoction of way too many alcohols with fruit punch. Why would you drink this? Well, there's something about the Islander that puts you in a "why the hell not" mood. I mean, let's stop being pretentious and just have a little fun. Life isn't always about the best of the best, but it's also about a little silliness as well.

The Islander ain't so shabby when it comes to delectable meaty appetizers either. Try their mango chicken wings on for size. They are delicious.

What I love the most about The Islander experience is the reaction of every single one of my friends that I have taken here. Each of them initially displayed looks of confusion, possibly vertigo. They weren't quite sure where they were or why I had taken them here. They felt a bit out of place. Yet sure enough, after half way through their Kicker, they'd turn to me and say..."I love this place!" as they found themselves overwhelmed with laughter and starting to relax.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Patty Boom Boom

1359 U Street NW
Washington DC

What an awesome bar staff! Although you may not actually be on an island, they sure treat you like you are. Patty Boom Boom is an island of chill in the middle of the busy U Street corridor. You walk up to the second floor (a bit hard to find the stairs as they are tucked away on the left hand side) and you find yourself in a very hip space. Candlelit tables, a DJ booth upstairs overlooking the room and great jams. Patty Boom Boom has a calm vibe to it, the people make it what it is. Chill, kind, and just want to have a good time.

The beef patties are delicious, get the spicy beef patty - it's the best. The jerk chicken - not so much, a bit flavorless. These "patty's", which I never knew existed until I went here, are much like an empanada, but less oil ridden and not as complex. A good cheap eat - we ordered 5 for $22 bucks and fed our entire table. One major downfall of this place, the rum punch. It tastes like Robitussin. I'm not joking, I had at least three people tell me this on their own volition. I've been to Jamaica, this rum punch ain't nothing like the punch I had in some of the best Jamaican spots in the country. This is just bad fruit juice with rum and a pineapple. You can just get a red stripe and you'll be good. Besides that, every other sign pointed to go. I'm definitely coming back here.


1726 20th Street Northwest
Washington DC

Just upon passing, by the look of it, I was willing to bet this place knew how to brew some good coffee. I mean, it is sleek, modern, hipster (the hipsters know coffee) - they have a professional espresso machine and an overwhelming waft of fresh ground coffee beans emanates out the door.

I was so excited to walk in, so wanting this to be the one - the one cafe I can call home in DC. It's not fair that we have such bad coffee here. I need justice! Filter, deliver it to me! I ordered a large regular coffee - if your regular coffee tastes amazing, then you are a winner in my book. As I poured a teaspoon of natural sugar into my cup and slowly drizzled the half and half cream in, I noticed it took a while for the coffee to match my natural skin shade. I instantly realized, this is some dam good strong coffee. Can't wait to take a sip. Put the cup up to my lips, drink in, and .....nothing special. waaaa waaaa.

I'm so sad, my hunt for good coffee in this town continues.....

I should say that Cork Market serves Stumptown coffee - the gold standard in coffee. Stumptown is the highest standard of coffee you can achieve, but not everyone knows how to brew it to perfection. I have yet to see if Cork Market knows how to make a mean french press. More on that later.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My new favorite hangout: Dicksons

903 U Street NW

As I was walking home from a concert at the 9:30 club a few weeks ago I passed by a three story brick row house tucked in between some old buildings on 9th and U - right across from the infamous Nellie's Sports Bar. I was shocked to see glowing candle light, glasses of wine and tons of people in a building that until that moment I never new existed. Ran up to the doorman and in excitement demanded to know what this place underground wine bar?! Something cool that I wasn't invited to?! Tell me!

Not such a conspiracy after all it turns out. Dicksons opened up close to a month ago. So I went back the next weekend to give it a try. Walked up a narrow staircase and was greeted by the owner with a smile, felt right at home in under 60 seconds. That is rare for a wine bar. We were seated on the third floor, overlooking the city and the rest of those seated on floor 2. The walls lined with empty wine bottles and candle light....I actually felt as if I was transported to my former town of Portland, Oregon for a moment. This transportation was made final once I learned they had an entirely organic menu. Yup, transportation complete.

The menu was impressive - with an array of charcuterie sure to please, splended mixed drinks made with a delicate hand, and a wine list that will leave you happy. They even serve Creekstone Farms beef - most recently hailed by the New York Times. Apparently it is the best of the best.

However, as much as I love Dicksons, I still think that no wine bar in the city has come close to the level of expertise that the staff at Cork have in choosing the most excellent wines. In my two visits to Dicksons, I'm inclined to believe that their staff lack equivalent education or training to recommend the perfect glass of wine to their customers. But one thing they do excel at here is the service, no one is friendlier.