Monday, July 11, 2011

Multitasking Mama Meals

As my regular readers well know, life has changed a bit for us over the last two years. Testing the restaurant waters used to be our greatest form of entertainment, but now we navigate towards our own kitchen, occasional take-out, and kiddie menus.  In other words, we eat differently than our former (i.e., pre-parent) selves - not worse, not better, just differently.  While I don't blog about restaurants quite as much as I used to, we still enjoy a meal outside of the home now and then, usually Saturday or Sunday brunch. As our comfort zone grows, I have recorded our experiences in snippets rather than eloquent essays. It's an effective mom technique - record your thoughts, and promise to revisit them later after the little guy is in bed. So, where have we been eating - as a family, and otherwise - since Hungry with Children launched? Read and find out.

District Taco (North Arlington) – I heart District Taco. I heart how fresh the fare is, how I can customize my order (with bacon, should it suit me), and how H scarfs their breakfast tacos. I recommend the huevos rancheros (be warned - the ranchero sauce packs serious heat) and anything el pastor (stewed pork and pineapple - mmm, mmm). This is a regular in our rotation.

Michel (Tysons Corner) – I had high hopes for the pretty space (decked in regal purple, always pleasing for me), but warnings proved true. My tuna tartare nicoise and poached salmon were both remarkably boring and bland – no hint of flavor or freshness. C enjoyed his burger, but he said he would enjoy it more at sister restaurant Central, where other great options abound. I will at least give props to the pastry chef – my apple opera was a scrumptious novelty. But, with slow service, and the other food so underwhelming, I have no need to consider a return visit.

Mad Rose Tavern (Clarendon) – We came. We tried. We failed. We bolted for greener pastures.  Our server forgot we were seated, the menu was not exciting, and Lyon Hall’s donuts were calling me from across the street.

Lyon Hall (Clarendon) - They had me at donuts, which Lyon Hall does fabulously well. But, the revamped brunch menu is actually quite nice as well, a little more sophisticated than it used to be. My squash poached eggs were a perfect treat for me, combining veggies and eggs for balance. On the kid's menu ("menu" not so much in the paper version of the word - Lyon Hall is very flexible in creating just the right meal for your little one), the lamb sausage was more refined than the chicken fingers you will typically find - daddy helped H polish it off. It was also a lovely quiet day for an outdoor brunch as the crowds left town for Memorial Day. Usually, Lyon Hall has a little longer wait, but it's still worth it.
China Garden (Rosslyn) - Service was never a plus here, but it's absolutely horrid now. A waitress slammed into me while I was carrying H, not apologizing, but instead, just pushing us out of the way (by the way, I was only standing still because of the crowd in front of me that the staff could not get seated properly). We were delivered our check before we had finished ordering, and our table was cleared with food still on it. The quality of the food itself is not up to snuff either; even the basic shumei was soggy and flavorless. I need to find a new dim sum place, and that's difficult task in DC.
Casa Nonna (DuPont) - Many moons ago, C and I snuck out for an impromptu weeknight date (as you may have guessed by the word "impromptu", these moons were pre-H) at Fyve in the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City. The prices seemed reasonable, and it was close to home. We didn't have any expectations. So, we were incredibly surprised by then-chef Amy Brandwein's luscious pasta course. It makes me quite happy that she now has her own place(s) - there's also a location in NYC - to put her talents on display. Casa Nonna was near the top of our list for a rare date night (and I hope you readers will understand that I didn't tote my camera and memo pad for our first date night in several months). The pastas are as good as ever - the Stracci has had me craving another bite ever since. The proteins could still use some work, and the vibe of the restaurant borders on the rowdy side for my tastes. But, oh, the pasta (try the specials for the night - we found our selections delicioso).
Elevation Burger (North Arlington/Falls Church) – Given several visits to both BGR and Elevation since last year's Burger Battle 2 Write-Up, I've had second thoughts. Elevation makes what you might call a healthier burger. While, yes, that's a bit of an oxy moron, I feel better about putting Elevation's grass-fed meat and other organic ingredients into my son, as well as my own body. We tend to frequent the North Arlington location, at which it can be difficult to find a parking space, but has a very kid-friendly and dog-friendly (a nice outdoor seating area) vibe. I also find the half-the-guilt burger a balanced option, with one veggie patty (hint veggie burger #2 is the lower calorie choice) and one burger patty - it's like those considerate restaurants that let you pair mac & cheese with a salad.
firefly (DuPont/West End) – Unfortunately, I have also had second thoughts about firefly, the more regretful kind of second thoughts. When I first dined here about four years ago, the whole experience was great. But, bringing the kiddo along changed my views. Perhaps it has to do with firefly being billed as soooo kid-friendly - no, no, I'm pretty sure I would feel this way even if I hadn't been encouraged to visit here. We were seated in a corner, which I understand is a good way to get kiddos out of the way of other patrons, but after we kept waiting and waiting and waiting for our meal, the seats we had been stuffed into (literally, I could not get H out of the high chair without scooting the entire table) became our prison, preventing H from taking the mid-meal (or pre-meal, as it were in this case) toddler jog that he so desperately needed. Eventually, we escaped and the attendant led us to the neighboring hotel lobby with a fish tank (bless her; we were in need of distraction). But, when our food finally arrived (by the way, my eggs were unimpressive, like Denny's unimpressive), the kiddo's meal didn't make it out, the server didn't bother to notice, and then she even failed to let H do the self-designed cookie upon which firefly has built its kid-friendly reputation. We were done. Okay, I think I'm becoming a little long-winded for a snippet here, but you get my point. Don't bother with kids in tow (or for brunch - much better options available in the surrounding blocks). 

Sei (PQ/Chinatown) - No second thoughts - Sei is exactly what it was two years ago. That's not a complaint - sometimes I think the restaurants undervalue consistency in favor of inventiveness. Sei still offers great value in its prix fixe lunch (and cocktail lounge happy hour menu), yummy orange miso bread pudding and wasabi guacamole, and a refreshing cucumber-hinted Silver Samurai cocktail. Yes, service is a bit spotty, but it's a reliably tasty spot.

Circa (Clarendon) – I wasn't excited about Circa (the chain nature, et al), but when we realized that we had an evening dinner hour available before our morning flight to St. Lucia, there were only limited Open Table reservations available in Arlington. As it turned out, Circa was a fabulous choice, much better than the much-ballyhooed Dasheene at our St. Lucian hotel (there was a reason my vacation post did not address the culinary aspects). We enjoyed good food (try the filet sliders, apricot-glazed wings, shotgun shrimp, or steak frites), good wine, and good ambiance. No superlatives, but a pleasant evening. 

Hill Country BBQ (PQ/Chinatown) - Texas BBQ is not my favorite (at least compared to the KC, and Carolina versions), but I found this version acceptable. Incredibly heavy (oh, I can still feel my aorta cramp), but some of the dishes were quite tasty. While I ordered my brisket lean (the responsible choice), C's moist version was much, much better. I also enjoyed the corn pudding, the collard greens, and the bourbon sweet potato mash. Both the game hen and the skillet cornbread were too dry to evoke much flavor. I also did not care for the PB&J cupcake - it felt like I was eating butter. The whole lining up/ordering/seating concept can also get a little livestock-ish (no pun intended). For us, we also ended up not planning well and ordering too much. If you order carefully, however, takeout BBQ from Hill Country can be just what you are craving. 

We have lunch reservations at Fiola coming up, so look forward to more restaurant posts soon.

In the meantime, take a minute and fill out the 365 Things to Do in DC Foodie Survey. I just did. It's a great way to connect to the DC culinary community, read statistics about area dining options (the nerd in me adores statistics), and win a few prizes (free dinner at some great District spots anyone?!).


  1. Wow this was a lovely wrap up. I haven't even heard of some of these restaurants, so I'll def add them to my list of spots.

    Appreciate the shout out.