Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: nopa Kitchen + Bar - Penn Quarter, DC

NoPA - Logo
Welcome to Chinatown.  Or is it Mt. Vernon Triangle?  Or Penn Quarter?  Apparently it’s now NoPa, North of Pennsylvania.  Who knew?!  Regardless of what you call the neighborhood, new restaurant nopa Kitchen + Bar is a welcome new addition. 

Some friends and I went for dinner on Friday, just a couple short weeks after they first opened their doors.  For those of you who had been to Zola, you’ll notice when you visit nopa that the space is now much larger.  The bar area is slightly bigger and they’ve added at least a couple more rooms of dining tables.  The restaurant was quite crowded which didn’t lend itself to wandering around and exploring the other rooms, but it appeared that each had its own theme of decorations.  I think from what I saw, I like the bar the best – check out the funky flooring!  It’s hard to tell from the photo but on the left are cozy little nooks with high-top tables – hello date spot!  And you won’t be disappointed by the cocktails…

The view behind me - I had a bad experience with a pheasant once (don't ask), so I prefer the second picture, which was the view just to the right of my seat.



Funky lights
My pictures don’t really do justice to the atmosphere and honestly, due to my great company that night, I completely forgot to take any pictures of the food!  Check the website out for a few (, or better yet, just go try it.  Our service was definitely on the slow side, but I always give a restaurant a month or so to work out their kinks and get into a good flow – they’ve got a couple more weeks to speed things up!  That being said, our server Stephanie was wonderful and most certainly charismatic – she took great care of us and kept us entertained.

On to the food:  One of the reviews I read prior to going raved about the pre-buttered herb rolls in the bread basket.  While definitely tasty, these are very similar to what my mom makes at Christmas every year and I think she has perfected hers…these were flavorful but either slightly over-baked or just spent a little too much time in the warmer.  I wouldn’t turn them away, but my mom’s are hard to beat - just sayin.  The almonds on the other hand – get them, they are addictive.  Sweet & spicy… perfect to whet your appetite for the rest of the meal.

I was feeling steak on Friday so I went with the Hangar Steak and potatoes.  Both the meat and tiny little new potatoes were perfectly cooked and full of flavor.  My steak was topped in deliciously caramelized onions.  I didn’t add a speck of salt or pepper to this meal – kudos Chef McCarty for knowing how to properly season your dishes!  My friends got the sea bass, BBQ chicken sandwich and vegetarian soup and everyone was quite pleased.  Make sure you save room for dessert; it is not to be missed.  You’ll want to check out the menu as pretty much everything sounds decadent and amazing, but one thing you have to get is the fried strawberry pie.  Holy moley – that s**t is good!!  Since tasting that pie, I have definitely considered going back and just eating a couple orders as my meal.  This is the only place I have seen fried pie since getting it in Nashville years ago on a cross country road trip – it’s worth every single calorie.

  • Service could be faster.  Direct quote from one of my dining companions, "took long enough that you'll fall asleep on the cab ride back home".  As I said, I give newbies a month of leeway.
  • Fun atmosphere, funky bar.
  • Great food, great drinks and I think it will only get better.
  • Price-wise?  Ehhh, it’s not cheap, but it’s certainly not any more expensive than similar restaurants – in fact, their Hangar Steak is $24 while both Le Diplomate and Central both charge $28.  Drinks, entrée and shared desserts with tip were about $60 and I think it was well worth it.
  • I’ll be back.
(For the record, nopa’s website indicates that they are located in Penn Quarter and that their name reflects their location, not the name of the neighborhood.)

**May 26, 2013 - UPDATE**
I went back to nopa last night (yes, already) and as I suspected they would, they have worked out some kinks.  Our service was faster this time despite it still being quite crowded.  The herb bread was also much better!  Last time it looked like they were making it in sort of a layered pull-apart style, which can lend itself to drying out easily, especially if it's sitting under a warming light or in a drawer.  It was still buttery and herbaceous but it now comes in muffin form, definitely helps keep the inside moist and delicious.  Nice work nopa.  For dinner this time I had the burger - not the best burger in town, but very tasty and cooked exactly as I asked.  The bacon on it was thick and chewy, also how I like it - yum.  Although, my friend who got the bbq chicken sandwich last time got it again and I tried it this good!!  Unless I was going for lunch I probably wouldn't ever order that since there are so many other "dinnery" options on the menu, but seriously - that is a freaking good sandwich.  I will most definitely be ordering that next time.  And yeah, we got the fried pie again - still amazing, end of story.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: barmini - Penn Quarter, DC

You may remember reading about minibar here, but now meet minibar's little sister, barmini - referred to on their website as a "culinary cocktail lab".  I loved my experience at minibar, but this new concept is great - you still get to experience the whimsy of Jose Andres but in a far more accessible venue. (By the way,  he walked through the restaurant as we were there - I eat at his places several times a month and this is the first time I have seen him!!)  Granted, I still made my reservation a month or so in advance, but I tend to do that anyway for restaurants I really want to try.  The menu consists mainly of cocktails - there are over 100, organized by spirit.  We were told that nothing is overly sweet, or overpowering in any way - they strive for balance.  I tried only two this time around and would agree with their assessment thus far.  They use all antique glassware for the cocktails and I wanted all of it!  Very cool.  

Front and center is the French 75
My first drink was the French 75 - gin, lemon, sugar, brut champagne - simple and really delicious.  Light, fruity, sweet and tart.  Next up was something a little more unique, the Ñ - cucumber vodka, tomato water, lime and ginger syrup.  Honestly not my favorite as I'm not a huge fan of tomato juice, but it definitely was well-balanced - as soon as I started to get almost too much tomato flavor, the sweetness from the ginger syrup would kick in, finishing with a bit of tartness from the lime.  The cucumber kept it all fresh and clean.  I'm glad I tried it, but I'll opt for something new next time.

Rather than going through descriptions of the food (of which there is a limited selection), I'll let you just be enticed by the pictures.  And when you make it there yourself, don't forget to go to the side door and do the secret dance: hop on one foot, spin around 3 times and ring the doorbell 5 times...then voilà!  Someone appears to greet you.  Ok, so only the doorbell part is true, but it still feels kind of exclusive and cool.

"Bagels and Lox"

Grilled Cheese with Truffle

Thai Chicharrones w/ Yogurt Dip

Short Rib Banh Mi Burger - a-freaking-mazing!
Ice cream sandwich with Vanilla Bourbon Ice Cream
And finally, even the delivery of the bill had Jose Andres' name all over it....

**Remember, you can click on any photo to see it full-sized.**

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Chewy Molasses Spice Cookies - Baking GALS Round 20

Wow – these cookies pack a serious punch of flavor.  I know spice cookies are generally made more around the holidays, but when I saw this recipe on one of my favorite blogs ( I knew they would be perfect for my troop shipment.  What is a more homey comforting thing than the aroma and taste of warm, sweet, earthy spices, particularly cinnamon?  When they were baking I definitely felt comforted, so hopefully as the guys are chowing down on them, they will too.   My suggestion, pop them in the microwave for just 10 seconds or so to get that smell wafting through the air….and a soft warm cookie ain’t bad either.

I’m thinking I might have to make these more summery as I definitely don’t think I can wait until next winter to make them again.  How so??  Make ‘em a little bigger and sandwich some homemade vanilla ice cream in between them – Y.U.M.

2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup dark brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup molasses
For Rolling:
½ cup granulated sugar
1. Preheat oven to 375º F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, pepper and salt; set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low, add the egg yolk and vanilla, then increase the speed to medium and beat until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Again reduce the speed to medium-low and add the molasses, beating until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping the sides of the bowl halfway through. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Use a rubber scraper to give it a final few mixes to ensure no flour remains.
Rolled and ready for the oven.
4. Place the sugar for rolling in a small bowl. Using a tablespoon or small cookie scoop, scoop the dough and roll into a smooth ball, then toss in the sugar to coat and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until the cookies are browned, still puffy and the edges have begun to set but the centers are still soft, about 11 minutes. Be sure not to over bake the cookies.  Otherwise - crunchy, not chewy - blah.
5. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Fresh baked!
*A couple notes:
These cookies flatten out quite a bit as they cool, I’m wondering if adding the full egg and some baking powder may make them puff up a little more - I tend to like a thick chewy cookie.  Even thin though, these are really great – I may just play around a little next time J
She says to use a small cookie scoop and that it will yield about 24 cookies – well we must have different definitions of small, because I used my small scoop and got a little over 40 cookies!  Just a heads up.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Cabin, Friends and LOTS of Food

Last weekend, some friends and I took a little road trip – peace out DC, hello Rileyville, VA!  Where the heck is that?!  Shockingly, it’s just two quick hours away near the edge of Shenandoah National Park.  Well, two hours without I-66 Friday afternoon traffic and a stop for essentials…beer, wine, liquor and that damn toothbrush that of course I forgot.  Oh I remembered my microplane to zest a lemon, but I forgot a toothbrush – go figure.

We went to the cabin to celebrate winning first place in the American University Eco-Comedy Film Competition for making this video:
It was a great way to spend the winnings – escape from the city, enjoy each other’s company, brainstorm for some new ideas (although it took all weekend to settle on one for the next competition – perhaps more on that later) and chow down on some good grub.  We even worked in some canoeing, late night ping pong and foosball, and a morning workout in our ginormo back yard.  Good times all around, but let’s get to the food:

Day 1 - Dinner:
Soba Noodle Stir Fry with Almond Butter Sauce (see post from 3/18/12)
Smores over our fire pit

Day 2:
Buttermilk Biscuits with various toppings - honey, lemon curd, raspberry jam, etc.
Bacon & Sausage
Scrambled eggs

Snacks – chicken salad (1/9/13), cheese, hummus (7/8/10), etc.

Fajita Night!  Chicken & Steak
Corn Salad – recipe coming soon!
Quinoa & Black Beans

Strawberry-Blueberry Hand Pies + 1 Shaq-sized pie (7/9/12)

Day 3 – Breakfast:
French Toast from homemade Cinnamon Swirl Bread
Bacon & Sausage
Mimosas, obviously

Not bad, right?  It was so much fun to cook for a crowd, and even more fun to have some kitchen helpers!  Miss you Bear Bluff!