Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reviews - Toki & Jackson

I’ve read all the reviews, I’ve heard all the rage, but I had to experience it myself to believe it.  Is Toki really that good??  Umm, yes, definitely.  And yes, it’s a ramen restaurant.  Not some fancy schmancy place serving things like truffles and foie gras that you are supposed to like because they’re expensive – we’re talking $10 bowls of soup.  The portion is huge and the flavor is amazing.  I had the Toki Hakata Classic (pork ramen) and I highly recommend it.  If you like spicy food as I do, get it with a side of the Endorphin Sauce, it’s the perfect little kick.  I tried some of the dumplings as well; the veggie and chicken, and both were delicious.  You can get them steamed, deep fried or pan fried – I prefer pan fried for that great textural balance, a little soft and a little crunchy – yum.

Toki is a tiny place.  The seating is mainly bar seats facing the kitchen or lining the walls of one small room.  I think there were only a few free-standing tables.  What this means is that there will likely be a wait, and you should definitely wait.  Go downstairs to The Pug for a drink, they’ll call your cell phone when your table/seat is ready.  I was told 40 minutes and ended up getting called in about 15, and that was for a group of 5, so you never know.  The music is funky as is the décor.  It’s a great place and I’ll definitely be going back for more.

I’m always a little skeptical about restaurants in hotels – not sure why, there are plenty of great ones out there, from fancy ones like J&G at the W Hotel in DC to hole-in-the-wall spots like La Caraquena in Falls Church, VA which is attached to a shitty motel (trust me, go and try the arepas).  Perhaps I should just finally abandon the skepticism.

Jackson 20 is located in the Hotel Monaco in Old Town Alexandria.  I’ve been there twice now, but the first time was just for drinks.  I had a deliciously potent cocktail that involved pomegranate – unfortunately that’s all I remember as I then went on to do a tasting menu with wine pairing at Restaurant Eve…followed by a 10K the next morning, ugh.  But I remember loving the drink!  This time though, I was there for a nice leisurely meal with a friend.  I started with a raspberry & vodka based cocktail.  We’re not talking raspberry vodka, we’re talking fresh raspberries muddled into the vodka – clean and really tasty.

It was restaurant week unbeknownst to us, so we ended up getting three course meals, I mean because when someone puts a deal in front of you, you have to take them up on it right?  My friend and I both started with the wedge salad.  It was great…not your typical wedge that mom made.  This had freshly made dressing with a large slice of blue cheese on the side, not to mention the colorful pickled red onions and super tasty “bacon”.  This bacon was really chunks of pork deliciously fried, not the strips you might envision.

On to the entrees – my friend got the mac & cheese, which she said was great.  It was a huge portion served in a cast iron skillet.  I love little touches like that – don’t just give me a big round plate with a blob of macaroni, make it exciting!  And they did.  I went home-style (it was cold and rainy, I must have been channeling mom) and ordered the pot roast.  Oh yeah, meat and potatoes baby….  The meat was tender and flavorful and the potato was interesting.  It was basically cored and stuffed with caramelized onions.  Well, from a couple posts ago, I think everyone knows how I feel about caramelized onions.  There were also some roasted root vegetables – carrots, squash, etc.  Not all that thrilling, but still pretty good.

Finally was dessert.  Well, not being a chocolate person, I usually opt for anything other, but when you add mint, I’m a sucker for it.  I had the grasshopper pie, which basically tasted like a Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookie, and how can you go wrong with that?  Again, the portions were huge, I don’t think I finished any of the three courses and I still got my money’s worth.  Definitely give them a try, maybe you’ll get lucky and get the bartender we did - he was super honest about our food choices and the second round of drinks was on him…Cheers!