Thursday, October 30, 2014

Food Trucks (DC Metro Area)

One of my favorite things about going to school, and thus living, in Northern Virginia is the abundance of food trucks in the area.  My local WMATA Metro stop, Ballston, hosts several each weekday, and there are dozens throughout the DC Metro Area, most of which are tracked daily by the website Food Truck Fiesta.  This site lists the locations of each of the trucks that tweets each day, plus pictures of the truck itself, their menus, and shows the tweets themselves so that you can check out any specials, find out what time they are going to begin serving, and more.

Since I am home during the day primarily, I have had the opportunity to check out several of the trucks, and they range from mundane to spectacular.  Some represent offerings from area restaurants (Kohinoor Dhaba, an Indian restaurant in Crystal City, and Chef Seb, from Amoo's Restaurant in McLean, are two of my favorites), while others are start-ups from accomplished, classically trained chefs, like Brandon Ingenito's Brandon's Little Truck.  Pho, the traditional Vietnamese soup, is probably the most heavily represented single item among the trucks, with tacos and rice dishes right behind.

Chef Seb is probably my overall favorite at this point, by virtue of the ridiculously delicious Pumpkin Braised Chicken Stew, served over rice.  With a slightly sweet, very pumpkin-y flavor, the chicken itself is falling apart tender, but still moist; completely delicious, almost addictive, this is the perfect fall meal, and is the rare pumpkin dish I actually like in a completely over-saturated category this time of year.  It is served with a grilled pita, chimichurri, and a yogurt sauce with cucumber in it.

Brandon's Little Truck serves by far the most creative, upscale food in the bunch; a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, the chef puts all his training and experience (including working at the other CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency, in their fine dining room at Langley) into creating some deliciously simple yet refined food.  His lamb burger was the first I had ever had that was not overcooked, and his heavy reliance on pork belly is just wonderful, as it is among my favorite ingredients.  The Asian Pork Belly Fries are really delicious, with the fatty, bacon-y pork providing the perfect thing to complement the crisp fries, mildly spicy wasabi mayo and Sriracha, and the crispness of the slaw. 

To go into all of the various trucks I have tried would take forever, so let it simply be said that there is a veritable smorgasbord of wonderful options, and I highly recommend trying them out.  Most are reasonably priced, and with one exception (an Indian truck that I cannot remember the name of) all offer a good amount of food for what you pay and do not leave you hungry.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Zengo (Washington, DC)

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Anyone who knows me knows that I love brunch; breakfast foods, mixed with lunch foods, at a reasonable time of day (aka, not breakfast time) on weekends with delicious champagne drinks?  What is not to love?  Well, I am living in the right place apparently, because the DC Metro area is saturated with, and Richard Sandoval's Asian-fusion restaurant Zengo is a great example of how good brunch can be.  I went with a friend from school, and we both enjoyed ourselves, though there were a couple small hiccups.

The brunch menu is all-you-can-eat, and all-you-can-drink; what a great combination!  Drinks include standard and tequila-variant Bloody Marys, a sangria made with Sake, and four different Mimosas; you can hope back and forth between the offerings, or simply stick with one if you find one that you like.  The food includes three categories, all of which are "small plates" (an annoying trend that actually works for brunch):  "Ceviches/Sushi/Salads;" "Dim Sum & Antojitos;" and "Brunch Plates."  The list of dishes we ordered was, to say the least, extensive, and I did not take notes or anything, so combined with a few mimosas, my memories are not as crisp as they could be, but I can point out a few highlights, as well as the issues I saw.

To start with, I had the Guava Mimosa to start, and after a refill or two, I switched to the Traditional Mimosa.  The guava variety does not really taste like a mimosa, as it is much sweeter, and the alcohol is not strong enough to get much taste of it; on the other hand, the traditional, orange variety is quite boozy, just the way I like it!  As for the food, I have listed the dishes we ordered below, in in order of how they appear on the menu.

Angry Zengo Roll:  Tuna, avocado, and cucumber are the primary ingredients, with a little sauce dabbed on top, it was certainly far from traditional (and traditional is my preference, to be sure), but it was very tasty, and I finished the meal with two of these.  The fish was fresh, which is always the key.
Vegetarian Roll:  I hate vegetarian rolls, but this one was pretty decent; it was not simply some cucumber and carrot shavings wrapped in rice, but rather had grilled asparagus, red pepper, and even some mushroom, so it was quite tasty.
Edamame:  On the menu, it actually says "Edamame Salted," and holy crap, are they serious.  I love edamame, and I love salt, but this was maybe a bit of overkill with the sea salt.  Still tasty, though.
Bacon & Scrambled Egg Steamed Buns:  We ordered these first, and had to ask multiple times to get them, and I was really looking forward to them.  Sadly, they were...blah.  The buns were too dense, not the light and airy steamed buns I love, the egg was similar in texture (though admittedly not flavor) to the egg in a Dunkin' Donuts breakfast sandwich, and the bacon was barely there.  Highly not recommended.
Shrimp-Vegetable Potstickers:  Really tasty, but not a ton of shrimp flavor.  I would have preferred a bit more of a crust on the potstickers, maybe just another thirty seconds or so on the flattop, but otherwise, very good.
Angus Beef & Pork Meatballs:  Probably my favorite thing of the day, the meatballs were juicy, flavorful, and just incredibly tasty.  Highly, highly recommended.
Thai Chicken Empanadas:  Very tasty, crispy dough and tender filling, though I would not have said "Thai" was the dominant flavor profile.
Achiote-Hoisin Pork Arepas:  This was not an arepa, but was tasty; the pork especially was good, though it was just on top of the "arepa" which was dense and a little dry.
Lobster-Chipotle Grits:  Bad texture did nothing to ruin this ridiculously delicious dish; I love grits, regardless of the quality, and though the lobster did not come through that well, the chipotle did, and the chunks of bacon were just freaking amazing.  My second favorite dish.
Peking Duck Chilaquiles:  Why do chilaquiles keep disappointing me?!  Not nearly so bad as at The Brass Buckle back home, I had higher hopes this time, and while the duck was reasonably tasty, the overall dish was nothing to write home about.
Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts:  Apparently I like Brussels sprouts a lot now; who knew?  Pai Men Miyake may have been the first to really convince me, but they were certainly not the last, and these were very solid, tasty sprouts.  They may have been the slightest bit undercooked, but the crunch of the interior was quite pleasant.
Plantains:  Well, what is there to say; they were delicious, duh.  Platanos always are.  The sauces, a crema and a chipotle, were both cook, though I preferred the crema to the slight heat of the chipotle.
House Cured Bacon & Eggs:  Over-easy eggs always get the better of me when I try to make them, so when properly cooked I am always a bit impressed when they are well made, and these were.  The bacon, however, was too crispy for me, and less flavorful than I was expecting.  Nothing you could not get at any decent diner.

All in all, this was an expensive, but enjoyable, experience, one that I would repeat again, though because of its cost it would likely be a very, very rare thing.  I would recommend it, though with the caveat that while the service was pretty good, the kitchen was somewhat inconsistent.  Kudos to the concept though.