Friday, October 28, 2011

Pregnancy Confirmation: BonChon Chicken

My first visit to BonChon Chicken will always hold a special place in my heart, because it will always be the occasion that caused C to exclaim, "Yup, you're definitely pregnant again".

That was a loaded statement, and yes, a big reveal. We are expecting again!! Our suspicions were confirmed weeks before I actually peed on a stick. It all came down to the best wings I have ever enjoyed.

WARNING - this is Pandora's Box you are about to open!

The odyssey that was our visit to the Annandale outpost of BonChon did not go smoothly to say the least. Out in Fairfax County for the County "fair" - note, not a fair, at least in the any proper sense of the word - we realized that it might be faster to head back home from a Southern route, taking us on Little River Turnpike through Annandale to 95. When we passed BonChon chicken, I persuaded C to stop because we had not able to locate the greasy fair food that we were looking for in Fairfax. I had read some rave reviews about the Korean fried chicken, and I was curious.

Well, we went in to order takeout and were surprised to find a dimly-lit bar. Undeterred, we placed a takeout order of a combination of the wings and legs (the only items you will find on the takeout menu here), paid, and after a few minutes, asked how long it would be. They told us an hour; and the pushy lady in line confirmed that yes, you have to order "days in advance". Given the now pouring rain, we were thrilled about the prospect of sitting in the car with a wiggling toddler for that time, but eventually, it lightened and we found an elementary school with a playground, and a 7-11 with an operational Slurpee machine. Then, the tornado-looking clouds appeared and the wind whipped up, but we were strong and continued to wait out our chicken.

After finally arriving safely at home, I really didn't expect the chicken to live up to the wait, the weather, and the worry of being hit by a tornado. It did. And then some. The crispy skin unburdened by breading is amazing, as is the juicy chicken without any hint of greasiness. Both the soy garlic and spicy glazes are the perfect flavor compliments for the already satisfying meat and skin. But did I mention the skin? It really is amazing, like Peking duck, but leaner, and somehow more delicious!

We ordered something like 20 pieces (mind you, relatively small pieces the size of wings), and C was confident I would eat no more than 3 or 4, leaving him to devour the bulk of the wing goodness. Not so fast....I lost all control after the first bite...not only was the crispy skin delectable and the juicy chicken mouthwatering, the spicy glaze was causing me to inhale more and more to control the burn (a good burn, mind you, but fair warning, a burn). I could not stop, and by the end of the messy affair, I had taken in my fair share, if not more, of the chicken order. C was stunned, and muttered the now infamous words. And the rest of the story, as they say, is history.

How quickly the wings and drummies disappeared...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lunch Liaisons: District of Pi

(Lunch liaisons is a regular segment wherein C and I meet for weekday lunch dates. The associated posts are not nearly as cloak-and-dagger as they may sound, but instead are reviews consistent with the quick and painless lunch hour theme).  

There always have been, and there will continue to be, strong opinions about Chicago deep dish. Lou Malnati's is my personal favorite, and that opinion was recently confirmed on our trip to Chicago and the North Shore. That visit also gave me the opportunity to properly judge our first visit to District of Pi, a St. Louis transplant serving Chicago deep dish, relatively new to Penn Quarter in DC. Yeah, I don't know about that either. What I do know is that the pie is not bad, and I'm impressed by the salad selections, cavernous space, and whimsy decor as well. We noshed on a basic sausage deep dish variety (District of Pi offers a plethora of thin-crust versions as well). The sausage was lean and well-seasoned, the cheese thick, and the tomato sauce was fresh, rich, and flavorful, perhaps more so than some of the Midwestern versions. My only observation in distinguishing the Pi version as unauthentic might be that the reduced grease content of this pie. Not that I am complaining about that difference.

Deep dish - it's a beautiful thing!

The Barber Shop

Bad mommy that I am, I forgot to bring my SLR to the barber shop for H's very first haircut. So, my Camera Plus App pics, taken on my not-the-latest-gen-by-far iPhone, will have to suffice... But, my QT- π is nevertheless the cutest, even if I failed to get a spectacular photo to document the event properly.

The seat - genious!

We start to cut.

H watches Cars from his post, unphased by the scissors inches from his ears. I was shocked.

Getting shorter...

I'm being such a good boy, mom.

A few views at the finished product.

...and the front...

We obviously came to the right place...

Perhaps a before and after are better ways to show off my boy...

Monday, October 24, 2011

The French Laundry

The inevitable question with critical darling and almost-impossible-reservation destinations like The French Laundry - did it live up to expectations? I guess I would have to say yes...and no. Yes, in that the staff of The French Laundry, Thomas Keller's famous outpost in the Yountville, California, does everything in their power to make you feel welcome. Everything except seating you on time - it almost seems like a game they play. No, in that we sandwiched the experience between two other memorable dining experiences - one a perfect, quiet, romantic wine country dinner; the other a night, full of really good wine, out with friends we had not seen in a long time.

The French Laundry was a true classic experience. From the houndstooth-patterned plates, to the garden fresh (I mean that literally - the gorgeous garden is across the street) vegetables julienned, carved, and shaved to perfection, attention to detail is part of the asking price here. But when shelling out this kind of cash, make sure that you, the diner, are prepared. We probably were not prepared for the experience. That does not mean were not wowed, just perhaps overwhelmed. In the end, I was struck by the beautiful plating in a beautiful setting, with some of the finest ingredients I have ever seen. But, truly, pictures tell a better story.

To remind us of the short distance between Napa and Silicon Valley, a iPad wine list...of course.
C loves the challenge of locating the most expensive bottle on the wine list - the iPad may or may not have assisted this search. The French Laundry's priciest vintage, an Italian red, rings up at just over twenty-three hundred dollars.

Our amuse bouche - a tuna tartare tuile presented like an ice cream cone. Tasty, but not quite as unique as other items.
Our first course of creek oysters, white sturgeon caviar, and a pearl tapioca saboyan. Rich, salty, and incredibly decadent - for DC locals, you will find this dish incredible similar to the 'OOO' in the Tasting Room at Restaurant Eve. (I was, I have to admit, disappointed that the alternative course, Ossetra caviar with dungeness crab, involved a substantial upcharge - not the only one of the menu - worthy of a family meal out at other locations. The French Laundry does not come cheap, and being asked to pay even more for small dishes, however luxurious, is sort of ridiculous. This is not restaurant week, after all.)

Probably our most gorgeous dish - Hawaiian hearts of palm, pureed smoked almonds, strawberries, ramps, and black truffles. Lots of flavors, I particularly enjoyed this variation on hearts of palm, but I found eating each component separately the most satisfying way of attacking this dish.

Termed the 'Confit a la Minute',  this combination of squid, beans, squash, pimenton, and corn was one of the more disappointing courses for me. My first impression was that I would not enjoy squid served beans and corn. While sometimes, I am pleasantly surprised by flavor combinations, here, my gut was right. Texture may have played a role as well, with the toughness of squid not pairing well with the soft beans and corn. The alternative course though, geoduck clam, is just a bit too much adventure for me. I don't trust that I could deal with the texture.

The butter poached lobster, served with smoky flavors of bacon, sea urchin, beets, and potatoes, was the point at which the meal truly started to ramp up. Poaching lobster in butter is a flavorful treat, but this particular presentation was so incredibly tender, and its savory richness paired so well with the smoky undertones of the other ingredients, I found myself wanting more (even though I was already adjusting the notch on my belt).

Our dining experience continued to build with a pasta course of lamb tortellini. I enjoyed the hearty pasta complemented by a dollop of fresh ricotta, but the accompaniments of ''Toybox' heirloom orange and red tomatoes, and Patron pepper and parsley consomme were the true stars. The fresh and sweet tomatoes melted in my mouth. The rich and bold broth was complex, yet somehow also refreshingly light.

With a 'Calotte de Beouf Grillee', we reached the climax of our courses. While this photo does not do the dish justice, this is probably the best piece of beef I have ever tasted. It was beyond tender, beyond flavorful. Complemented by flavors of eggplant, romaine, Nicoise olives, and dijon, each element came through in the flavors of the Snake River Farms cut. This is one of those bites that I will remember for the rest of my life.

The cheese course was a pleasant surprise, as I do not usually care for bleu cheese. But this version was mild, and combined quite well with the Concord grape jam and candied cashews.

C, who is not one to indulge in a cheese course, was treated to this incredibly beautiful exotic and local fruit plate.

Past the point of full, and with the aforementioned prospect of yet another indulgent meal in front of us, C and I were definitely in the mood for a lighter dessert. The peach melba, with pistachios and raspberry sorbet, met this standard. But, it was a bit underwhelming after the heights reached by the previous courses.

Our meal concluded with a selection of artisan chocolates, called Mignardises. A combination of savory and sweet flavors put us over the edge of decadence.
I will leave you with a few shots of the gorgeous scenery surrounding the restaurant. Napa and Sonoma Counties are breathtakingly beautiful.

My Girl

My girl, she had a rough time a few weeks back. She was in need of a bath, so we sent her to doggy daycare for the day, looking forward to a fresher smelling Penny returning home to us. Things did not go as planned.

Early in the afternoon, sitting at my desk, I answered a cell phone call from a number that I did not recognize. It was Mary from daycare (not H's, Penny's) on the line, and this is what Mary had to tell me:
Hi, this is Mary from Woofs and I am here with Penny. She seems to be suffering from symptoms of bloat, dry heaving and her stomach feels distended. We are going to take her to [the vet]. You need to meet us there. As soon as possible.

Needless to say, my reaction was visceral. You need to meet us soon as possible. The words echoed in my head. My Penny is going to die, I thought. First I need to tell C, and then I need to be there when she goes. She is after all, my girl, my one and only girl. Ten minutes later, C and I were both in the car, en route to the vet, fighting back desperate emotions and shock. I prayed with all my heart that there was something that could save her, and I acknowledged that I was far more attached to my dog than I ever thought I could be to an animal.

I felt guilt that I have to put other obligations before spending time with Penny, that I don't have the time or attention to give her the affection that she so desperately wants. Without going into too much detail, as it turned out, Penny was fine. Either the condition in her intestines either fixed itself (which by all accounts from the veterinary staff would be an absolute miracle) or she was simply sick, and the symptoms were misdiagnosed. A couple of hours of leave, and a couple hundred dollars worth of x-rays later, Penny came home, had a bleary-eyed night, and has mostly* been fine. So have we, with some emotional lapses when consider the magnitude of our near-loss.

* With the exception of a rough patch in finding a digestible food for Penny when she was a small puppy, she has been remarkably healthy. We did have the surprise of a UTI diagnosis for Penny just last week. When it rains, it really does pour.

We are so very grateful that Penny will be okay, and we have tried to take to heart the lesson that we learned from our experience. We have to treasure the ones we love, be it the four-legged kind or not. Our puppy has worked her 85-pound way into the deepest parts of our hearts, and it would be weak to fail to acknowledge just how much an essential part of our family our little girl is.