Queen Amannisa

Queen Amannisa, Arlington VANot too long ago, I caught wind of an Uyghur restaurant existing in the DMV area that perked my attention. Since I was in Istanbul about a month ago, I was curious about these Asian-looking people and their culture that seems to spread as far from Western China into the far reaches of the Asian continent next to Europe. So, last Sunday, I managed to coral the dinner group to have lunch at Queen Amanissa in Crystal City, Arlington, VA. Walking in, I was impressed by the modern spacious space that was both inviting and appealing to the eye. After much contemplation on the menu, many questions (not me), and with the help of the amiable helpful owner/manager, we placed our orders.

Home-made Samsa, Queen Amannisa, Arlington VA

The first appetizer was the Home-Made Samsa. The triangular packet came baked with sesame seeds on top, looking appetising for the hungry eyes. One bite into it revealed not a flacky dough but a rather soft one much like some Chinese baked goods I’ve had before. The stuffing was chunks of lamb that were cooked with some onions; the meat was moist and very savory with a slight scent of lamb gaminess that paired well with the sweet onions. This was a good starter, however, I wanted some sauce that would complement these small bites – but, good start indeed.

Tasty Wood Ear Mushroom, Queen Amannisa, Arlington VA

A salad that caught my curiosity was Tasty Wood Ear Mushrooms. The moment it landed on the table, it grabbed our attention only by its visual appearance but the nutty scent of sesame oil as well. The first bite sent my senses into overdrive, not due to  overwhelming flavors, but by the interesting flavor combinations. Silky soft wood mushrooms (actually fungus) is paired with tomato, red bell pepper, and white onion, which provided some textural contrast and sweetness. But it was the seasoning that made this a success: acidity from a light vinegar, salt, and heat from some chili flakes. The dish was not overwhelming at all as the seasoning was fairly even-handed. No wonder online reviewers highly recommend this dish.

Manti with Meat, Queen Amannisa, Arlington VA

Cuisines from Central Asia are known for their dumplings, and I had to try this house’s version. The owner warned me that it would take some time since it was made from scratch, and sure enough, it was the last dish to arrive. The skin looked beautifully pleated, an indication that some manual attention went into it, tasting quite chewy, not industrial pasty, much like fresh-made pasta. The filling was a mixture of fairly large chunks of lamb cooked with some leeks (they were more fibrous than onions, unlike what the owner claimed). I quite enjoyed them as these parcels were very savory, but I found the size of the lamb bits too large, and their slightly dry nature did not add to it. I would have wished that the meat was cut into smaller pieces, or hashed, and a pairing sauce would have made them perfect, much like what other dumpling cultures do.

Braised Meat Laghman, Queen Amannisa, Arlington VA

I had read online that the restaurant made hand-pulled noodles, and I’m glad that a dinner mate ordered Braised Meat Laghman. What arrived was an explosion of colors. After not heeding to my advice, as well as the owner’s, to mix everything up, he complained it was rather bland. I tasted the sauce to check on the flavors and I was amazed at its complexity and baffled at my friend’s remarks. But he did eventually mix it up, with a touch of thick soy sauce, and he started to be effusive about its wonderful flavors. The sauce reminded me of Chinese restaurant sauces that are not found in home cooking, and I kept dipping my fork to taste it. But the star was the hand-pulled noodles that had a bounce only found in such manner of preparation, with a slightly al-dente interior. Although the diner was not fond of spice heat, he could tolerate a tinge of chili in the mix. Based on other reviews, I would also order the Dry Fried Laghman which is popular and supposedly quite fiery.

Polow, Queen Amannisa, Arlington VA

A couple of my friends ordered a dish similar to the Afghan version – Polow. Touted as the main Uyghur dish, they had to give it a try. What arrived was a bit different to what we were used to. The pieces of lamb were mild and devoid of its gaminess, and falling apart easily. The rice was very savory and full-bodied from cooking with a good stock, albeit the grains were medium grain and not the nutty basmati, which I didn’t really mind. The pieces of carrot were not sweet like in the Afghan version, but extremely savory that they amazed me, paired up with pieces of raisins that added the sweet pop. This meal was made complete by an accompanying salad and a bowl of home-made yoghurt that lightened the meal with its acidic goodness, to which one diner marveled at its well-made quality. I would say that this dish is a sure bet for anyone unsure about the menu.

Lamb Ribs, Queen Amannisa, Arlington VA

I was also glad that one of us decided to try the kebab or grilled meats. My friend ordered the Lamb Ribs, and its appearance did not belie its nature. I managed to taste a bit, and the meat was moist, well-seasoned with adequate saltiness and spices, reminding me of Ghanian Chichinga, but with a fairly strong lamb scent, perhaps due to the nature of the cut. But it was fresh-tasting and appetising, especially for the lamb lover. I suspect that here they do well with the other types of kebabs, especially with the less exotic cuts. I’m curious about the Roasted Leg of Lamb which may be my order the next time.

Queen Amannisa, Arlington VA

Queen Amannisa is a great find, especially being one of the first establishments in the DMV area serving Uyghur cuisine. Here we see world history of the Silk Route playing itself out in the offerings, from the Chinese influences of hand-made noodles, to the hand-pleated dumplings, to the use of sesame oil, and the Central Asian influences of Polow and Kebabs. Yes, some of us were hesitant, as well as grouchy, at the beginning of the meal, and the late timing and the long decision-making compounded that anxiety level. But, at the end of the meal, we were calmer, sated, and definitely, if not surprisingly, pleased by this new culinary experience. This place is going into our list of dinner places, for sure.

Queen Amannisa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kaz Sushi Bistro

An invitation from two moderators of a Facebook group that I am a member of had totally slipped my mind. But their reminder that day hastened me to get ready and rush to downtown to meet these out-of-town guests. Furthermore, the choice of location was perfect as I had been wanting to taste and write about the sushi offerings at Kaz Sushi Bistro since I had been eyeing it for many years, but never had the chance to step through its doors.

Sake Walking in, you sense the sleek minimalist decor and furniture, modern but not too stuffy or fussy. The space is quite crammed, much like stepping into a restaurant in Tokyo, thus lending a Japanese ambiance but in a modern sense. We quickly navigated through the menu which was quite familiar and well-designed for the hungry eyes. After ordering, we started off with a bottle of sake. Our waitress brought us an array of fine Japanese porcelain to choose from, which was an exquisite touch. One sip of that rice wine sent my taste-buds on high alert as I immediately recognized its refinement and superior quality by its smoothness and hint of fruit-like finish. For $70 a bottle, I guess one shouldn’t expect any less.

Cucumber and Smoked Mackerel Salad

One of our starters was Cucumber and Smoked Mackerel Salad. The beautiful plate arrived with the marinated vegetable interspersed with flakes of smoked mackerel and bands of wakabe seaweed. It was an interesting combination of sweet and sour flavors as well as textures. The smokiness from the fish was not overpowering as it acted as a foil to the other flavors. The accouterments of red mini chilies were a sensational pop as well as the dabs of Japanese mustard, akin to the English one but sweeter, that added more bold flavors to the mix. This dish was already sending me the first road sign of the direction that the meal was heading towards. Jicama and Seaweed Salad

The other appetizer was Jicama and Seaweed Salad. The bowl arrived with thin julienned strips of the jicama root, a dark seaweed, sesame seeds, lettuce, and microgreens. I enjoyed the combination of the slightly sweet crunchy jicama together with the seaweed that exuded its iodine sea aroma. The dressing was a light sweet and sour combination that did not overwhelm, but it was too similar to the above salad; a different flavor profile of the dressing would have made this dish a perfect accompanying partner to the above order.

Sushi a la carte Sushi Special 009

Now, Sushi Time. My friends decided to go a la carte and I chose a set plate from the chef’s special menu. Their order looked beautiful not only by the visuals, but I sensed the quality and the proper treatment of the seafood pieces just by their appearance. However, I did not try a piece and relied solely on their sense of contentment while they were eating them. My order was the Chef’s Sushi 009, as it was highly recommended by our waitress.  Each sushi piece was not only a different piece of seafood, but they were adorned with flavor elements comprising of Japanese mustard, citrusy yuzu, green peppers, yuzu-marinated tapioca pearls, flavored jelly, and salted plum. These elements added an individual personal kick to each bite that were bold and exciting without overwhelming the delicate seafood; even the pickled ginger was saltier and stronger than usual. I enjoyed each bite for their flavor “personality” in addition to their exceptional quality that made it a truly remarkable sushi experience for me.

Matcha Tiramisu Just when we thought we had enough, my gracious friend ordered a couple of desserts. The first was Matcha Green Tea Tiramisu. The cocotte arrived with a topping of green tea powder and brunoise of fruit. Underneath was a moist and luscious rich cake that was balanced by the slightly bitter tannin of the tea powder that spoke of healthy antioxidants to dampen some of the guilt from the cake; I appreciated the tea powder that reminded me of a fresh cup of quality green tea that I have drunk before. The pieces of fruit were well macerated and they lent some light fruitiness to the whole mix, making  this a truly decadent yet not overwhelming sweet. Molten Chocolate Cake

The other dessert was their version of Molten Chocolate Cake. Despite sitting on the table for some time as we were engrossed in our conversation, it oozed out its goodness onto the plate when we cut into it, an indication of it being perfectly cooked. Each mouthful exuded its rich dark chocolate flavor with a smooth mouthfeel from the use of butter. The side raspberry coolie was not perfunctionary since it was concentrated with a good tanginess in each drop that rivaled the strong chocolate. Despite having eaten two rich and excellent desserts, we were adequately sated without feeling overindulged.

My meal at Kaz Sushi Bistro was a superior experience that confirmed my hunch, as well as other reviews, of this establishment. The ambiance was inviting and polished with a wait and sushi staff (complementary aperitif from the sushi chef) that are charming and personable without being intrusive. The seafood was of exceptional quality that was treated with differentiated flavors that were creative yet true to the cuisine with bold flavors that matched the delicate pieces. As for the desserts, they did not play second fiddle as they were made to impress the diner at every level. Price-wise, I think that this level of dining was well-priced and worth the extra for the quality of seafood and the dining experience one gets here. I would easily return here to re-experience this level of fine dining.

Kaz Sushi Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Addis Ababa


A recent visit to a new discovery was in Silver Spring, MD, an area chokeful of Ethiopian eateries of which some I have enjoyed eating at. When I read up the online reviews for Addis Ababa Restaurant, I was reassured by its high ratings and effusive reviews. Walking into its door was an immediate transportation to a different world and time frame due to the decor and furniture, all speaking of authenticity and pride of the Old World. My eyes were already immediately feasting on the visual candy, especially the table of coffee cups that hinted of the Coffee Ceremony that I was lucky to partake in before.

 

We quickly narrowed our choices to the Vegetable Platter with a couple of meat dishes. The true litmus test, for me at least, of Ethiopian food is the flavors and treatment of the different pulses and vegetables that I am extremely fond of. The red lentils were made spicy and smokey by the use of the berbere pepper sauce, with a hint of sweetness to balance the heat. The yellow lentils were cooked just right with lots of savoriness complementing its onion sweetness that made this mild bite very irresistible. The injera bread was fresh with its usual sour note that made it the perfect foil and eating scooper for the various elements on the large platter.

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The rest of the vegetable elements were equally impressive. The beans were extremely exquisite with a high degree of savoriness that made me coming back to it often. The cabbage and carrots were cooked just right without any mushiness that exuded their natural sweetness with a good amount of garlic that I enjoyed. The collard greens were cooked to the right degree of doneness, but it was missing the right amount of vinegar sourness that would have elevated its flavor and lightened its mouthfeel. Admittedly, at this point, I would have been completely satisfied by this vegetable platter and nothing else.

The first meat dish was Awaze Beef Tibs. Pieces of beef are sautéed with the berbere pepper paste, onion, and jalapeño pepper. The flavor profile was just right with the proper heat and smokiness from the pepper paste, sweetness from onion, and the fresh green pepper adding more heat and its fresh vegetal note.  The choice of meat cut was unfortunate as it was a bit gristly for my liking. But I kept returning to it due to its wonderful flavor and its generous portion.
A must order and litmus test in any Ethiopian restaurant is a chicken-and-egg dish – Dorowat. When ordering, I was surprised to find out that there is a mild version to the usual spiced up version called Alicha. What arrived was completely unexpected and a far cry from its usual fiery looks, but its mild yellowish sauce came with its usual drumstick and single egg. From my experience in other establishments, this dish is really about the sauce itself, and this version did not fail in this regard. It tasted very savory and slightly sweet from a good amount of onion that also added some textural body to the whole mix. The chicken and egg were properly cooked, but they played second fiddle to that awesome sauce.  This mild version wowed me as much as the spicy original one, and I would not hesitate ordering it in future visits.

My meal at Addis Ababa Restaurant checked off many boxes in my books. The decor was transformative and extremely appealing to this world traveller, complemented by an amiable service. The Vegetable Platter was as good as it gets with the different pulses and vegetables having a differentiated flavor profile and cooked to the right degree of doneness. The Awaze Beef Tibs had the right flavors but a slightly better cut would have made it perfect. The mild Dorowat chicken dish was a total surprise, and its savoriness equaled the usual spicy version. With this type of cooking in a warm inviting environment, I will be returning to this wonderful place for one of my favorite cuisines.

Addis Ababa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mandalay

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I’ve known Mandalay Restaurant for many years, even before its formal existence. After my college days, I discovered that the owners of a doughnut shop in College Park served some Burmese fare on Sundays as the result of some customers’ demand. After a few years of popularity, it closed its carry-out joint and opened a formal space in downtown Silver Spring, MD. I must admit that I have forgotten to pay them a visit to write this blog even though I have been meaning to for the longest while. So, here it is.

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I remember a couple of appetizers from my visits years ago. The first was Squash Fritters. Pieces of zucchini-like vegetable have been battered and deep-fried, served with a spicy sauce. The vegetable exuded a mild flavor while the batter was both uniquely crispy and slightly elastic by the use of rice flour; unfortunately, the batter was a bit oil-logged. The chili sauce, tasting house-made, was sweet, spicy, sour, and salty, being the necessary condiment to add a good punch to the mild bites.  The comrade to this appetizer is the eggplant version. Here, instead of the firmer squash, the bites had a creamy smooth interior, and this time the frying was expertly done with less of a greasy feel.

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An appetizer that sounds unique and exotic is the Green Tealeaf Salad. The plate arrived with a cornucopia of ingredients and textures: crunch cabbage leaves, crispy fried lentils, slices of tomato, caramelized garlic slivers, all brought together with crushed tea leaves and a splash of fish sauce (an option provided by the server). The first bite can be disarming for the uninitiated with the rather strong tannin from the green tea leaves.  But after a few mouthfuls, the palate picks up the other elements and the fish sauce that balance out the stringency. This is definitely up my alley as something gastronomically adventurous that spells uniquely Burmese.

20180617_132255Another small bite that caught my attention was Gram Fritters. One bite into them took my by surprise as it was beyond what I expected. Instead of a stodgy dough, what I tasted was crispy on the outside and fluffy light and savory in the middle, with an airy sponginess to the mix that made them very appealing. The lentil flour mix was well-seasoned and made aromatic and interesting by the use of curry leaves. Here, we have a dish that clearly points to Burma’s location as neighbor to the South Indian continent with this Indian-influenced dish. With textures and flavors like these, I wouldn’t hesitate to make this a regular order on my visits.

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Another well-known Burmese dish is a soup called Mohingar. I tried it years ago at this place, and I give the dish a revisit. The first sip this time was a bit of a shock: the soup was very fishy and there was an interesting funk to it that somehow reminded me of chitterlings, if that is possible. The slices of onion added some sweetness, and the cilantro added some herbaciousness while the lime juice the necessary brightness that cut through the strong fishiness. Despite the overwhelming flavor, I quite enjoyed the noodle soup. Perhaps, this batch was cooked and reheated for a bit too often since my online research pointed towards freshly made recipes with chunks of fish, instead of being pureed in this version.

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My order on one visit was Pork and Pickled Mango Hin.  I have had this dish a couple of times before, and this time it didn’t fail on its promise.  The chunks of meat were not too porky but fork tender without being overcooked. The sauce was a unique combination of chili heat, a bit of sourness from the pickled mango made tender from the stewing, and a unique brininess from the mango pickling that added more allure to the dish. A note of fennel seed added some punch to this mix that kept my interest with each bite.  My companion’s order was Catfish ChoyChin Gway. Pieces of fresh catfish has been fried slightly crisp and then stir-fried with some sweet onions and green peppers. The sauce was the binding element that brought everything together with its slight sweetness, a good heat of chili heat (perhaps dried chili paste) and a fruitiness from perhaps crushed tomatoes.  This flavor combination was subtlely unique without over challenging the taste buds, and I kept going back to that wonderful sauce.

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20180617_133452DanPauk was a dish I remembered as the establishment’s signature dish that was first served in its early days as the donut shop. Here we have pieces of chicken thigh cooked tender and tasting well-marinated with a sauce made sweet with a chockfull of caramelized onions. But its rice companion pretty much steals the show with its heady perfume of cardamom, cumin, and saffron, along with bits of peas and plump raisins that made each forkful very foodgasmic. A beef dish called Ame Thar Hnut was a friend’s order. The beef was a quality cut cooked until fork tender, slathered in a sauce reminding me of Malay rendang with its root and spice herbs. Although it lacked in spice heat (my friend’s request), this dish was another winner.

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A dessert harking to Indian cuisine is Shweji much alike the Indian Sooji. Instead of the milk and butter version semolina pudding of its neighbor, what we have here is a version made with coconut milk. Pieces of raisin echo the appropriate sweetness that is not cloying at all. The topping of poppy seeds add a slight crunch to this warm sweet goodness – make sure to save some room for this happy ending.

20180615_194548Mandalay is one of the handful of Burmese establishments in the DMV area, and it does a wonderful job with its offerings which were well-prepared, tasting unique to that part of the world, and exciting to the palette. The appetizers of the fritters were a good start with fresh vegetal qualities paired with that awesome chili sauce, as well as the one made with lentils that blew me away. Yes, the Mohingar soup here was a bit of a challenge, but a fresh pot of it would probably win anyone over. As for the entrees, the ones we ordered checked the right boxes, including the Sunday special and the signature dish, DanPauk, which would make anyone make a special trip just to savor it. And don’t foget to always leave room for that warm Shweji.

Mandalay Restaurant & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Anh Dao

Anh Dao, Washington DC

12 years ago, my Friday dinner group used to meet up for dinner at a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant near Eastern Market, DC, since it was the halfway point between the MD and VA folks. However, it met its demise a couple of years later, and we lamented the loss of its wonderful offerings as well as its convenient location. Recently, I saw the sign of another Vietnamese eatery as this location and my group decided to meet up there. Walking into the familiar space, although chopped up to smaller real estate, I was greeted by a familiar face who called me by my name – the owners of the former eatery. Wow, they decided to reopen in the same space, Anh-Dao, and what a happy reacquaintance it was with some familiar faces.Summer Rolls / Goui Coun, Anh Dao, Washington DC
Spring Rolls / Cha Gio, Anh Dao, Washington DCAfter our smiling faces settled down from the warm effusive greetings, we perused the menu, albeit pared down from that of the last location. We started off with the usual Vietnamese appetizers. The first was Summer Rolls. The fresh wrap rolls was stuffed with the usual combination of rice vermicelli, sliced pork, sliced shrimp, and crispy lettuce leaves. It tasted like most that I have eaten in other places but I would have liked some fragrant basil leaves in the mix. The peanut sauce reminded me what I had in Vietnam, with the sauce not tasting too sweet or hoisin-like, allowing the peanut flavors to make its presence known in the peanut butter and bits used in the sauce. The next appetizer was Spring Rolls. The fried small bites were delicately made with a  stuffing that tasted savory from minced meat and a refined seasoning that was noticeable but subtle at the same time. The pieces were greaseless to the touch, pointing to a kitchen that knows oil temperature for frying. This was a good start indeed.

Steamed Chicken Dumplings, Anh Dao, Washington DCA non-Vietnamese appetizer was written in the menu and that struck my curiosity – Steamed Chicken Dumplings. What arrived looked very much like Japanese gyozas.  One bite revealed its nature. The skin was the usual quite thin dough encasing a delicious filling. Notes of finely minced chicken were mixed in with finely shredded vegetables and punctuated by notes of green onion and garlic. This savory mix made every bite pleasurable along with the dark soy dip that was bit sourish, sweet, and salty at the same time.

Shrimp Papaya Salad, Anh Dao, Washington DCAnother appetizer that caught my eye was not the usual – Shrimp Papaya Salad. What arrived was a plate of green papaya strands, julienned carrot, sliced shrimp, topped with basil and cilantro leaves that added their herbaceous notes. But what made this dish sing were the details in the dish. The fried shallots added a caramelized dark note and the crushed peanuts its nutty rich crunch. But the magic in the dish was the sauce that was perfectly balanced with its salty and umami fish sauce, and the right balance of sugar and lime juice. I kept coming back to that elixir sauce throughout the whole meal for its-so-goodness.

Shrimp Crispy Noodles, Anh Dao, Washington DC
I recalled that the former establishment had a delicious Shrimp Crispy Noodle dish and a companion went for this order.  The large plate was replete with the crunchy brittle pasta, topped with a light sauce and pieces of medium size shrimp and lots of vegetables. But the key to the dishes is both the noodles and the sauce. The former was greaseless and perfectly crispy with a clean taste (fresh oil was used), and the sauce was both savory and slightly full-bodied, which when mixed with the noodles, it had a tinge of smokiness that I found very appealing. I wouldn’t hesitate to order this at all.

Shrimp, Chicken, Spring Roll Bun Salad, Anh Dao, Washington DCGrilled Shrimp, Chicken, Spring Roll, Anh Dao, Washington DCAnother noodle dish is the Combination Noodle Salad. What arrived was a huge bowl of rice vermicelli, paired with some finely sliced vegetables and topped with grilled chicken, grilled shrimp and a chopped up spring roll. The chicken and shrimp were slightly sweet and salty, pointing to a good seasoning and marination, and grilled with some slight char to its ends. The spring roll was as good as the appetizer.  This was a huge bowl that my friend was thoroughly enjoying since its his Vietnamese favorite. Another companion’s order on another night had the noodles changed for steamed rice, which he seemed to be content with.

Shaky Beef, Anh Dao, Washington DCShaky Beef was my order on my “first” visit. It’s name comes with the tossing action when it is cooked in the wok. What arrived were small cubes of beef cooked with some white onions. A whiff of it was a good indicator of the dish’s quality. The beef was quite tender, tasting uber savory with a soy/sugar sauce made sweeter by the onions. I enjoyed not only the incredible flavor but also the size of each morsel that made you appreciate the meal without feeling that you are biting into the side of the cow. The moderate portion was just right for me, and I was left complete sated by this dish.

Pho Noodles, Anh Dao, Washington DCThe real litmus test of a Vietnamese pho place is it soup noodles.  Since the owner knows me well, she decided to place a special order for me. What arrived was a combination of raw steak (the usual), flank steak, meat balls, and tripe.  The meats were of good quality especially the beef balls that tasted home made, and the usual for the noodles. But the key ingredient is the soup that was where my focus was throughout this meal.  It tasted full-bodied, an indication of use of lots of bones, slightly sweet from onions, and slightly woodsy (cinnamon, star-anise) with their evenly calibrated tones without jarring the senses.  I was thoroughly enjoying this bowl until the last drop of clean-tasting (no msg) broth, and I would stop in here for that hot bowl when in town.

Complementary Orange, Anh Dao, Washington DCYes, it has been a decade since I saw the owners in the same establishment, albeit reopened but smaller. But somethings have not changed. The high quality cooking is evident especially in the shrimp papaya salad, shaky beef, shrimp crispy noodles, the combination noodles or rice, and the pho noodles. So has the warm and friendly service from the owners whose husband-cook came out to greet me.  The complementary dessert confirmed another unchanged variable – incredibly sweet oranges to end the meal that never departed from this superior quality (Where do they find them consistently sweet?). This place has been definitely added back to our dinner rotations, and we all are glad to have them back in business again.

Anh-Dao Taste of Vietnam Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Golden Samovar

Golden Samovar, Rockvile, MD

One recent cold night, a longtime friend and I were looking for a Peruvian restaurant in Rockville, MD by the Town Center. After hunting high and low, we gave up and walked into the closest eating establishment in order to get out of the cold. We both had not savored Russian food before and the menu piqued our interest as we traversed down this gastronomic journey.

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Chicken Blintzes, Golden Samovar, Rockville, MDHerring Furcoat Salad, Golden Samovar, Rockville, MD

Golden Samovar sits on the corner of Rockville Town Center.  Walking in, you are immediately welcomed by a rather smart decor with a European touch in the chandeliers, embossed walled paper, and a framed Siberian wolf, which not only was it shocking but strikingly impressive.  After navigating the terra incognito-like menu, we decided on a couple of appetizers that I had read or heard about. The first was Chicken Blintzes. The rolls consisted of a buttery yet slightly firm pancake wrap filled with a shredded chicken filling, which we found tasting freshly-made and quite savory, especially with the house-made sour cream that was not overly tangy. The second was totally unfamiliar to us – Herring Furcoat Salad. What presented itself was quite perplexing since it didn’t look like a traditional salad but a cupbowl filled with reddish and creamy parts.  But one spoonful was quite an eye-opener.  It was a mixture of shredded fresh beets and carrots, chunks of briny pickled herring, sitting on mashed potato and liaisoned by a mayonnaise-like topping. The disparate elements spell out an unimaginable alliance, but this made an incredible combination that my friend and I couldn’t stop returning to. After the waiter told us that this dish was usually prepared for special occasions, I can see why due to its appealing flavors.

Chicken Kiev, Golden Samovar, Rockville, MDUzbek Plov, Golden Samovar, Rockville, MD My friend ordered Chicken Kiev which seems like standard fare. What arrived was a bit surprising.  The ball of meat was finely minced chicken meat mixed with some breading and stock to loosen it up, and seasoned mildly.  Instead of the usual stuffing with cheese, a creamy cheese sauce was napéd on the crispy breading exterior.  This was a subtle dish that I was enjoying partly due to its novelty and “authentic” take of what we know this dish to be. As for my main course, I ordered an Uzbek special, Lamb Plov, since the owner hails from the region. What arrived reminded me of Afghan Rice Pilaf, pointing towards the connections between the close countries. The fluffy basmati rice was well seasoned with stock and aromatic wood spices, sweetened by shredded carrots and raisins, and studded with fork-tender and well-seasoned pieces of lean lamb that tasted like a perfect partner with the rice.

Borscht Soup - Golden Samovar, Rockville, MD

Cucumber Radish Salad - Golden Samovar, Rockville, MD

On another occasion, a couple of friends joined me for the $30 all-you-can-eat brunch menu, which was a rare treat for me. I started off the with Borscht soup which I though was a must-try.  The soup had all the usual elements of beets, cabbage, pieces of beef, and sour cream, but it somehow was quite insipid for my taste buds that was yearning for more of a stock flavor. The side of Cucumber/Radish Salad was interesting being pieces of the vegetables coated with some sour cream and fresh dill, but it needed some salt and tang to lift its flavors up.

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Dolma - Golden Samovar, Rockville, MDVeal Pilmeni - Golden Samovar, Rockville, MD

Since the owner is from the Uzbek region, stuffed grape leaf counts itself among the Russian dishes – Dolma. The small bite was attentively made with the right balance of flavors and acumen. Each bite consisted of a mild grape leaf wrapped around a light but spiced rice meat mixture, complemented by a tangy yogurt-like sauce – this bit of wonder called for a second order after its initial tasting. A recommendation for us was Pelmeni, reminding me of tortellini but here stuffed with a veal mixture. One bite into it was love-at-first-sight.  The pasta was not too thick and a bit al dente, enveloping an amazingly light meat stuffing that was savory and irresistible. We couldn’t be satisfied with just our individual orders and we eventually had to get a second huge one.

Blintzes, Smoked Salmon & Salmon Roe - Golden Samovar, Rockville, MD Bratwurst - Golden Samovar, Rockville, MD

An order of smoked salmon, salmon roe and blintzes was next – Sakhalin Style Salad.  The fish was of pretty good quality, the salmon roe briny and fishy, and the blintzes the perfect match with the strong seafood elements. We were thoroughly enjoying our big platter and we eventually added on another serving later. We were recommended to try the Russian Bratwurst.  What arrived were sliced-up pieces that reminded me of good Viennese sausage but tasting home-made with its moist light texture.  The side of spelt was tasty and well-made, as well as the cabbage salad that provided the necessary acid to balance the rich flavors and textures. These two dishes were quite a hit for some of us at the table.

Beef Stroganoff - Golden Samovar, Rockville, MDPotato Latkes - Golden Samovar, Rockville, MD

A couple of other small bites were among of plethora dishes that we ordered for brunch, albeit a la carte and thankfully made to order. Beef Stroganoff seemed like a no-brainer for an order in a Russian eatery.  The beef was lean and fork-tender, but I was surprised by how underwhelming this dish was, especially being a meat-chocked dish. I didn’t taste the mashed potato served alongside since I didn’t want to get stuffed with unnecessary dishes, but it looked properly made. We were ingratiated with some Potato Latkes at the end, but we could only manage a couple of forkful which turned out to be quite light and well-made.

Golden Samovar, Rockville, MD

What we thought would be a crap shoot turned out to be quite a rewarding gastronomic journey in discovering what Russian cuisine is like at Golden Samovar. There were moments of revelation with the soul-stirring Herring “Salad” and Blintzes either stuffed with chicken or topped with smoked salmon. And there were some dishes that stood out due to their flavors and their skillful cooking, notably the Pilmeni dumplings that kept us hooked, the bratwurst dish, and the Uzbek offerings of stuffed grape leaves and lamb rice dish. As a foray into this European cuisine, this has been a discovery and a pleasing adventure into new-found gastronomic territory. Judging from my visits so far, I think I will be heading back soon to Golden Samovar to discover more tasty delights of this wonderful East European cuisine.

 

The Fourth Estate

Istanbul and Beyond

Early this week, I was invited by Robyn Eckhardt for the the book signing/dinner at the launching of her newly published cookbook “Istanbul and Beyond” (link) made visually alive by the wonderful photographs taken by her husband David Hagerman. Having been friends online with the food journalist couple and having tested a few of the recipes when the book was in the writing stage, I was more than eager in meeting them and partaking in this special dinner. The event took place at The Fourth Estate restaurant located at the top floor of the National Press Club at downtown Washington DC. For dinner, the various courses were taken from the pages of the cookbook, and we savored the myriad of Turkish flavors while the author and her husband regaled us with storied from their personal journey in the making of the cookbook. Here is a rundown of the whole meal:

Rice-stuffed Mussels - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Appetizer: Ari’s Rice-stuffed Mussels with All-Spice, Raisins, and Pinenuts.

Zucchini Dolma/Chile Cheesebread - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Appetizer: Zucchini Beef Dolma and Soft Cumin Pepper Paste Cheese Flatbread

Purple Basil Cooler - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Cocktail: Purple Basil Cooler

Lemony Okra Tomato Soup - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

1st Course: Lemony Okra Tomato Soup with Garlic Toast

Herbed Mackerel Cakes - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

2nd Course: Herbed (Anise/Cinnamon) Bluefish Cakes with Hot Pink Pickled Cabbage and Dill Garlicky Yogurt.

Apple Sorbet and Pomegranate Seeds - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Intermezzo: Locally-made Apple Sorbet and Pomegranate Seeds

Butter Lamb Onion Stew - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Entrée Course: Butter Lamb Onion Stew and Spinach Peas Rice

Creamy Fig Pudding - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC.
Dessert: Creamy Fig Pudding

Fragrant Orange Cookies - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Dessert: Fragrant Orange Cookies

Cinnamon Tea - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Digestif: Warming Cinnamon Tea

Throughout the meal, I was constantly impressed by the exotic yet alluring flavors of the various dishes that spoke of food beyond the usual Turkish fare that most of us are familiar with. The mussels were a surprise due to the sweet and allspice notes that one would never consider pairing with the seafood. The okra was devoid of slime due to a secret technique in the cookbook in handling this prickly vegetable, making the citrusy lamb-based soup even more appealing with its vegetal crunch. The fish cakes were another surprise with its pairing with anise and cinnamon which was an odd for fish, but somehow it worked. The lamb stew was buttery rich but completely delicious with the diners at my table wanting more. The fig pudding was deceptively simple in description, but it left us with a level satisfaction that any complicated French dessert would. Ultimately, it is the skill level of this kitchen that made each dish deliver the proper flavors with a level of refinement that kept the diner impressed and feeling properly bestowed upon throughout each course. Judging by the dishes we savored that night, I am definitely tempted to return to this restaurant for their regular fare which I can assume will live up to my expectation. It was a wonderful evening indeed, as I nightly leaf through Robin Eckhardt’s amazing opus to continue discovering this unchartered cuisine and to revisit that night’s gastronomic reveries.

Fourth Estate Restaurant at the National Press Club Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato