It's been a whirlwind of eating for me these past few weeks. Our friend Boy Married is quite the restaurant connoisseur and know his stuff and I've been the beneficiary of being dined (and not wined) by my organization's funder. So here's my reviews of some of the places I've eaten in the past few weeks.
The title of this review is "thank god the funder paid for this one." Our major funder took me and my E.D. out for lunch at Ten Phenh last Tuesday to talk a little policy. I will say that I like the decor and how the managed the noise level. Lunch is always crazy for a sit-down meal because of all the chatter. Foodwise the meal was up and down. My biggest beef about Ten Phenh is how rice doesn't necessarily come with your entree and if I wanted rice with mine, I would need to pay $6. For an Asian restaurant that just seems so absurd.
The theme of the lunch was competent but unimaginative food. The limeade actually tasted a notch down from the fresh and tart limeade I'm used to at a Vietnamese dive. We all got an assortment of appetizer. I got the generous servings of lumpia the size of Cuban cigars and tasted the Peking duck rolls. The lumpia were competently made with three different sauces - a sweet chili, a hot remoulade, and a spicy soy. As with most of the meal I was befuddled about how they could spend so much time on decor and buzz and have food that was on par with a Duangrat's or a Sala Thai. Obviously the presentation and ambiance reflected the fact the same elegance of Ceiba which is owned by the same group. The food just didn't keep up. Their duck rolls tasted strong of hoisin but the sauce overpowered any flavor of the duck meat. I got the whole fried catfish where the lack of rice was really irksome. The fish was perfectly cooked and served with a nuoc cham dipping sauce (a sweet nuoc mam) and an Asian cucumber salad. But the strong flavor of the sauce was screaming for rice that I wasn't willing to make my funder pay for. The serving was more than generous and I didn't order dessert.
On the almost opposite end of the spectrum is woodland in Hyattsville. I have to thank Married Boy for this find. It was our boys night out as our friends were throwing a friend a girls-only bachelorette party. Nestled in an ethnic strip mall that reflected the Latino, South Asian, and Vietnamese character of that part f Hyattsville, the decor and ambiance of Woodland was befuddling. Giant murals of some form of sign language adorned the walls along with woodland creatures and Indian princesses. Even more interesting was the fact that a tourist bus full of South Asians took over half the restaurant. They were led by a petite Chinese woman who would try and lead them in a cheer. The waitstaff served this party as if they were family, just slopping huge servings of curries onto the tourists' plates. Because Married Boy lived in Virginia and didn't get out to this part of Maryland often, we both ordered a curry AND a dohlsa, a crispy Indian crepe. I ordered the vegetable makhani curry with the masala dohlsa, the crepe with potato. Boy Engaged ordered the paneer curry and the onion dohlsa. Both were incredible. One top of our two GINORMOUS entrees, we split the appetizer sampler. Along with the usual samosas and pakoras (which were excellent) were savory coconut dougnuts. For TWO entrees and an appetizer sampler, we ended up paying $40. I had to suppress a giggle at the price.
The final part of my eating out experience was going to Rustico in Alexandria for dinner last night. We had to drop off Married Boy's bag he left the previous night and he recommended that we go to Rustico. With it's high ceilings, open kitchen, and modern and eclectic decor, Rustico promised interesting food. This time, the food didn't disappoint. Considering we came at 9:00 pm, the services was prompt and friendly. We started with their BBQ pulled pork mini-sandwiches and their garlic knots. The BBC sandwiches were served on an excellent cheddar-herb biscuit with sweet potato chips. The pork was competent but the biscuit it was served on was out of this world. Light and savory the biscuit could have been served on their own. The sweet potato chips were light and crisp. The garlic knots were pieces of friend bread dough rolled in garlic, herbs and a little lemon and served with a marinara dipping sauce. Rustico knows it's deep fat fryer because the knots were light and delicious. The lemon flavor cut through the greasiness of the knots. It would be hard to top the appetizer, but the entrees lived up to the innovative decor. J ordered the seared tune with fingerling potatoes and green beans with a sun-dried tomato tapenade. I ordered the mac and cheese alfredo with assorted mushrooms, peas, pancetta, and sausage. I would say both dishes were highly salted but not so much that it distracted from the flavors of the entrees. I loved the mac and cheese with its sauce that was strong enough to cling to the pasta but not so gooey thick that I couldn't eat it. Each ingredient - mushrooms, peas, pancetta, sausage - all had their moment in the sun and worked well together. The seared tuna was a true delight, moist, flaky and perfectly seared. There was a caper egg sauce that complimented the tuna perfectly. It gave variety to the tapenade that also accompanied the tuna. The serving were healthy enough for us not to order dessert. This was a perfect date restaurant along with a great after work spot.