Mele Bistro

Mele Bistro One of the dinner friends in my weekly Friday dinner group is travel-challenged since he would not venture past a certain point in the DMV, hence we tend to accommodate to his limitations when he is included in our gastronomic soirees. So, recently, when he made a new recommendation for the group, I did not question his suggestion and I quickly set up a reservation for the group’s meet-up that very evening.

Spanish Olive Oil - Mele Bistro

Mele Bistro is located in a short strip mall in Rosslyn, VA, replacing a run-down Bistro that my partners and I eyed over the years without stepping through its doors.  After the demise of its previous existence, the place took a name change and its decor updated.  Walking into its colorful, yet very dimmed, space, we took our seats towards the back of the room.  The menu is quite daunting to read with its wide offerings, and some dishes were divided into small or entrée sizes, which made for a lot of flipping back and forth the pages.  Compounding this was the lack of light which made it nearly impossible to read the listing.  After placing our orders, we attacked the basket of french bread that wowed us with its right-out-the-oven quality of a crispy exterior, its warm pillowy inside, and the tinge of sourness that belied its carbohydrate nature. The bottle of Spanish olive oil made it a good companion with its fruity and grassy notes, leaving behind a slight back throat afterburn.  Rarely have we ordered more bread for us mid-centurions who really can’t afford indulging on bread.

Chorizo Pata Negra - Mele Bistro

Caprese Salad - Mele BistroOur appetizers arrived rather promptly.  Mine was a plate of Pata Negra Chorizo from Spain.  One bite into it confirmed its exceptional quality that one should expect from this pork appetizer.  The meat, although still crudo, had a mild quality without any trace of porcine funkiness found in commercial meat, while its flecks of fat imparted an unctuous quality much like thin strips of lardo melting in the mouth.  Such flavors brought me back to days of living in Spain and having its Jamon Serrano for my lunches.  My friend’s Caprese Salad came with colorful slices of yellow and red tomatoes supporting shards of mozzarella.  The cheese was its expected creamy and slightly elastic quality but it yearned for some salt and pepper to highlight its flavor.  Unfortunately, the tomato slices was a total let down due it being out of season, and its hydroponic quality tasted of winter’s grey sky – seasonality has a great point after tasting this common restaurant faux pas.  The rest of the group had the French Onion Soup and the Soup of the Day, but both were lackluster and didn’t impress any of us.

Hapuna Seabass - Mele Bistro

Trout Almandine - Mele BistroA friend’s main course was supposed to be Suzuki Sea bass, but the kitchen ran out of it, and it was substituted with the highly prized Hawaiian Hapuka Sea bass.  One taste of it exuded a clean mild ocean-like quality that pointed to its deep-sea environment with the fillet perfectly cooked with a slightly crispy texture and flaky yet moist interior.  I was not sure what were the black pieces on top of it, but I did not detect its essence on the fish.  Another friend’s order was his perennial favorite – Trout Almandine.  My  first visual impression concerned me. The butterflied fillet was studded with almond slices that appeared blackened from the sautéing.  But a taste of it proved me wrong.  The trout was fresh-tasting and moist, with the almond imparting its gentle nuttiness with a bare hint of bitterness.  In both dishes, the mushroom risotto was not bad, but it could have been better with a stronger stock, more cooking (evidence: slightly chalky kernels), and a bit of richness from butter.  Overall, they were pretty good dishes that satisfied both diners.

Blackened Scallop - Mele Bistro

Wild Salmon - Mele BistroMy main course was a small plate version of Blackened Scallops.  The plump pieces of seafood were well seasoned, and cooked to perfection with a slightly crispy exterior and a melt in the mouth interior quality.  What I noted was the pieces were very fresh with no hint of ammonia that  made each bite quite perfect.  However, the same risotto was its companion with its flawed preparation, which only slightly detracted me from the main star.  My other companion’s order of Seafood Linguine was lost in the service confusion, which was prevalent throughout the night. After constant notification to the kitchen, what he got was something totally unexpected.  It was a fillet of Wild Salmon sitting on some sautéed vegetables and mashed potato.  One taste of the fish hinted of a mild-tasting fresh piece of wild salmon that was not overwhelming in Omega oils usually found in farmed fish. The vegetables looked freshly cooked and the mash was proper with slight chunks in the mix, tasting of olive oil instead of the ubiquitous butter-cream version.  My friend was not just happy to have received his meal but its quick disposal was an indicator of his satisfaction with it.

Dulce de leche, Pear Tart, Torta di Nona - Mele Bistro

Even though the small plates of entrée were a decent portion, we were tempted by the dessert offerings.  We managed to focus on three and we shared them among each other.  Dulce de Leche was definitely the rich one made richer with its caramel tones from cooked condensed milk, additionally feeling quite dense with each forkful.  Torta di Nona was a lemon curd pie that was quite good with a note of lemon juice and butter sweetened just right.  However, I needed more lemon acid note to balance the tart out, but my friend found it perfectly balanced.  As for me, I went for the Pear Tart.  The topping was a layer of the sweet fruit sitting on a rather thick crust made with crushed almonds with its almond essence wafting through each bite.  If the fruit-to-crust ratio were the inverse, it would have been exceptional.  But we all seemed satisfied with this sweet ending.

Usually not one to write about the service, I’m breaking with custom here because the tasty food was overshadowed by how things ran that night.  First, it was way too dark to read our menus, even for some millennials who had to resort to bright cellphone flashlights in order to read.  We never could figure out whether the helpers were the Maitre D’, the runner, the waiter, or….  Our main courses arrived without the appetizer plates cleared and we had to hold them as we were being served.  My friend’s order was not only forgotten, but another dish, although well-executed, arrived instead.  We barely got a check-in from the staff since they were frantically scrambling around keeping the ship afloat.  I must say that this is one of the few occasions in which the service was glaringly dysfunctional.

Mele BistroMele Bistro has many elements going for it: a beautiful well-decored space with parking located in a dense area, and pretty good cooking coming from its kitchen especially the fresh seafood paired with locally sourced ingredients. I am recommending this establishment, with some reservation, based on the above qualities that are a hit when the right choices are made. I would recommend you to go during the slower nights, or when you are in the right frame of mind to put up with the inconsistent service. But I’m quite sure you will find gastronomic delights like in the cold cuts, seafood, and the sweet offerings. Give it a try and you may come out quite satisfied.

Mele Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Highlights 2015

I’m posting this blog to highlight the restaurants and dishes that I enjoyed the past year. Happy New Year to everyone.

Zaytinya (read Blog)

Batijan Bin Laban - Zaytinya, D.C.

Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake & Matisha Ice Cream - Zaytinya, D.C.

Batijan Bin Laban/Fried Eggplant
Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake, Matisha Ice Cream

Askale Cafe (Read Blog)

Vegetarian Combination, Askale Cafe, Washington DC

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony, Askale Cafe, Washington DC
Askale Vegetarian Combination
Ethiopian Coffee

Yuan Fu (Read Blog)

Chow San Shein

Veggie Duck with Basil & Ginger
Chow San Shein
Veggie Duck with Basil and Ginger

Toki Underground (Read Blog)

Fried Chicken Steamed Buns

Toki Classic Ramen

Fried Chicken Steamed Bun
Toki Classic Ramen

El Patio (Read Blog)

Empanada Tucumana

Grilled Ribeye Steak
Empanada Tucumana
Grilled Ribeye Steak

I Love Pho (Read Blog)

Bo Bun Hue

Crispy Noodle
Bo Bun Hue/Spicy Beef Noodle
Crispy Noodle

Myong Dong (Read Blog)

20150823_124959

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Be Beam Naeng Myun/Cold Buckwheat Noodles
Mandu/Korean Noodles

Thip Kao (Read Blog)

Knap Paa/Grilled Salmon Wraps

Laab E'kae/Minced Alligator Salad
Knap Paa/Grilled Salmon Wraps
Laab E’kae/Minced Alligator Salad

Thank you for following my blog in 2015.  I hope you will enjoy my new finds and postings for the new year.  Happy Eating.

Zaytinya

Zaytinya, D.C.

A call from a long-time friend for dinner was immediately returned with an affirmative answer, especially when it was an invitation to Zaytinya in Washington DC.  I had known about this buzz-filled establishment recommended by many foodies and friends.  However, I dared not make a visit to its location in the very busy and restaurant-filled 9th street corridor due to the logistical obstacles set-up by the DMV, that is the DC Motor Vehicles – speed cameras, limited street parking, expensive garage parking, and metered street parking until midnight, if you can find one.  Well, I could not forgo this opportunity of visiting this Mezze-style eatery, owned by José Andrés, who owns the veteran tapas Spanish restaurant, Jaleo.  After finding free parking a few blocks, I knew I was in for a good experience.

Fresh Pita and Olive Oil/Balsamic Dip - Zaytinya, D.C.Zaytinya’s menu is filled with small sharing dishes from the lower Mediterranean, notably Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon. Perusing the menu can be quite daunting with the dishes labeled in the original names.  But reading the descriptions gives the diner a general idea of what to expect and a picture of the flavors and dish itself, perhaps jolting a memory of the dish from the recesses of the mind. I recognized a few that I have eaten over the years and was adventurous enough to try a few new ones, mulling over them as I munched on the complementary pita bread which was light and well-baked, but lacking a sense of character, like yeast and wheat bran notes that I would expect from a good Mediterranean bakery.  But I was quick to overlook it since I was anticipating the dishes that would make up our dinner.

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Fattoush - Zaytinya, D.C.The first to arrive was Fattoush.  It is a Lebanese salad that usually consists of lettuce, cucumber, red onions, green peppers and topped with baked pita croutons.  The version here had in addition pretty slices of red radish and mouth-popping pomegranate that added its sweet and fruity notes along with some toothsome texture.  The pomegranate vinegar dressing was a departure from the usual lemon and olive oil dressing; however, the use of the sour Sumac powder didn’t venture far from the traditional.  This salad was a fresh meal opener with the very fresh ingredients and the various flavors and textures waking the mouth up with these appealing elements.

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Batijan Bin Laban - Zaytinya, D.C.The next to be served was Batinjan Bil Laban. Three rings of deep-fried battered eggplant arrived sitting on a pool of roasted garlic yogurt sauce and a piece of mint leaf.  One bite into them revealed a skillful kitchen with the perfectly fried and nearly grease-free pieces.  The batter was light and crispy at the same time, revealing an ethereally light and melting eggplant inside sans any bitterness.  The yogurt sauce was the necessary companion that added some creaminess, acidity, mild garlic notes, and a depth in flavor.  I could not get enough of these crispy/melting bites with their perfect pairing of textures and flavors.

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Mushroom Lebanese Couscous with Brussels SproutsContinuing in the vegetable department, the next to arrive was both vegetable and mushroom inspired – Mushroom Couscous.  The evocative brass bowl arrived with a mound of large Lebanese couscous, studded with large pieces of mushroom, leaves of Brussels sprouts, and topped with garlic tourn, a type of sour cream.  Wow, this dish kept my spoon returning back to this bowl.  The pearl grains were perfectly cooked without being too firm or mushy, tasting savory having been cooked in some stock.  The mushroom pieces added its boschiness that elevated this dish beyond boring starch, along with the creamy sour cream that added the necessary lusciousness to the whole mix.  The pieces of Brussels sprout did nothing to this dish since its mild flavor barely made its presence known.  But, I was quick to overlook it since everything else was “on point.”

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Fried Squid - Zaytinya, D.C.To round off the meal, we chose a couple of non-vegetable dishes.  One order was Fried Squid.  Pieces of the seafood arrived with some garlic-yogurt sauce on the side.  I was expecting the usual from these morsels, perhaps due to me having my fair share of this.  Each piece was not only perfectly battered and fried, but the squid was tender and fresh tasting.  The fresh dill on top provided the fresh herbaceous note to the seafood that added more interest, as well as the pungent garlic-yogurt sauce that lent more flavor and creaminess to each bite.  My eye was zoning in on the last few scrumptious pieces, to which I made my move before my dining companion could – checkmate.

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Pork Belly Special - Zaytinya, D.C.

The other savory dish was a special – Seared Ossabaw Pork Belly.  The beautiful alabaster plate arrived with two pieces of pork belly, potato confit, grain mustard sauce, and orange gliko.  One bite into the belly pointed towards a quality ingredient that has been prepared well, with the mild tasting pork fat and meat exuding a its rich porcine flavor.  Equally strong were the pieces of potato, perhaps Yukon Gold, that were full of flavor and character, and they were competing for this diner’s attention.  The mustard sauce was the right match for the fatty meat, as well as the orange gliko, a type of Greek marmalade, that was peaking my gastronomic curiosity with its faint bitter orange and sweet notes that also matched the fatty pieces well.  But this was a rich dish which I enjoyed more than my friend, who took only a small bite.

Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake & Matisha Ice Cream - Zaytinya, D.C.Just as we thought we were done with the meal, we decided to look at the dessert menu, and we ended up ordering the Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake.  The plate arrived with a molten chocolate cake (fondant) with some sea salt grains on top, dressed with some caramel, pistachio nuts, and ice cream.  One break into the cake revealed its hot gooey interior, tasting of the slight bitter notes from the rich coffee and dark chocolate, and complemented by the salty element. The caramel sauce was called for to add the sweet balance to each bite.  But it was the ice cream that got my attention most.  There was a unique flavor that I had never come across, and my mind was racing through mental archives to find its origin.  After making a query to the waiter, I was told that it was pistachio sap used in the ice cream, which was quickly filed in my mental notes.  What a interesting ingredient that reminded me of maple syrup, and I was tempted to lick every melted drop from the plate.  My friend’s cup of cappuccino was more than adequate with its bold flavor without the bitterness usually found in American blend.

Zaytinya, D.C.Well, that was a visit well over due.  What I appreciated about this establishment besides its swanky space is the variety of flavors found in this Mediterranean-inspired menu which not only showcased quality in the cooking but also the ingredients themselves.   Yes, you sense the respect for the traditional dishes, but a bit of creativity has been infused into the usual to give them some new interests.  Furthermore, I was titillated by the new flavors found in the use of certain ingredients, as in orange gliko with the pork belly, and mastiha in the ice cream.   Even with only 5 savory small plates and dessert between two, my friend and I were more than satisfied with our orders.  To top it off, the bill only came up to $55 for the both of us, which, in my estimation, is very reasonable for this calibre of cooking and for the DC restaurant scene.  Now, that is Good Eats!
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Zaytinya on Urbanspoon

 

LA/Pasadena

Pasadena 1 038.jpgIn order to recover from my winter blues, albeit a snowless and mild one on the East Coast, I decided to spend a week on the West Coast and to get reacquainted with a new online friend that I had met in the DC area last November.  The last time I spent some time in the Los Angeles area was nearly 20 years ago with my sister’s high school mate.  Since my new friend lives in Pasadena, which he speaks highly of his beloved city, I thought it would be an opportunity to learn about the city that hosts the annual Rose Bowl Parade with hundreds of flower-decked floats parading down its tree-lined streets.
Pasadena is indeed as beautiful as my friend touted it to be with the charming houses, parks, and the abundance of greenery amidst an arid climate, which left me parched most of the time.  Knowing that I was quite the gourmand and a food blogger, my host was the perfect gentleman by making himself available to take me around and locate the restaurants that I was interested in trying out, as well as some of his and his friends’ recommendations.

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After picking me up from an amazingly serene LAX airport (catching the first flight on a Sunday must be the secret here), we headed out to Lemonade, a new chain whose food can be best described as California Fusion.  As you walk into the serving line, you notice that the first items offered are the side dishes, followed by salads, meat and seafood, sandwiches, stews and hot dishes, and lastly the dessert choices.  Since the sides came in large portions, customers are encouraged to order them in half portions.  My selections were a varied quartet consisting of a seared tuna salad with snap peas, watermelon radish, black sesame seeds, ginger, and a hint of nutty sesame oil;  a daily special of fresh asparagus, crisp red radishes, and sweet lychee (yumm!)in a biting horseradish sauce; cubes of roasted sweet potatoes mixed with roasted pistachios; and Israeli couscous with mushrooms, parmesan, and lemon truffle – all the sides were amazingly fresh (no surprise since we are in bountiful California) and packed with flavor, except for the last side which seriously lacked any seasoning beyond the taste of olive oil. For protein, strips of seared sashimi-grade tuna with a sweet and citrusy yuzu sauce hit the spot.  Since my friend is a sweet-tooth fiend, an order of the banana cake was quite heavenly with the very light sponge batter seeping in banana flavor and the layers interspersed with banana slices and mascarpone cream.  The meal was washed down by the different lemonades which this eatery is known for – mine was Ginger Peach which was a good spicy choice.  This is fast, fresh, but not-so-cheap eat since all the portions do rack up quite a bill before your tray arrives at the cashier (notice how the sides are strategically placed at the front of the line).  However, it is worth an occasional visit for their fresh and rather creative offerings.

Pasadena 1 043.jpgThe next morning, my friend suggested eating at an LA institution, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles House.  I had tried their food before in another branch in Oakland, CA a few years back, and this day’s offering did not disappoint me a single bit.  My friend had an order of crispy waffle and a piece of fried chicken that had its seasoning permeating every inch of each bite.  A side order of grits (well-cooked here, unlike most places) and gravy that was fairly light (yeah, sure!), yet tasty, rounded off this rib-sticking “itis”-producing breakfast.   My order of Southern-style sausage and over-easy eggs were a lighter (only by a few calories) yet satisfying choice for me.  It seems that this place is a “must-visit” kind of eatery judging by the photos of the famous and not-so-famous celebrities on the surrounding walls.

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For lunch, we checked out a couple of places.  The first was Mediterranean Café which serves typical Lebanese fare.  According to my friend, there is always a line wrapped around the block when he pays his frequent lunch visits.  And understandably so – the Chicken Shwarma and Beef Kabob were well seasoned with the smoky charring from charcoal grilling, Greek Salad ingredients fresh and ripe, the Hummus creamy and correctly seasoned to claim its new identity beyond chickpeas, the Rice Pilaf buttery and fluffy, and the Pita Bread freshly made and still pliable.  A conversation with the owner would only confirm the level of quality control and passion that he and his son bring to this simple yet wonderful eatery.

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Pasadena 4 006.jpgA hunt for a roving Taco food truck in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood (see what I would do for good eats!) proved to be futile since most do not open for lunch as they tend to cater to single men looking for grub after working hours.  With the help of the Yelp application on my smart phone, I came across Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant that had received many glowing reviews.  After locating this eatery, we sat down at this rather quaint and very clean restaurant.  We decided to try an assortment of Tacos – Barbeque Pork (Carnitas), Beef Tongue (Lengua), and Breaded Shrimp (Camarones) all enveloped by soft tortillas.  All the meats and shrimp were well-prepared and not overly seasoned, and the side sauces of green tomatillo and red roasted peppers took these bites to a fiery level.  An order of Beef Quesadilla (Carne Asada) was very delicious with the thin freshly made tortillas sandwiching a hint of cheese and brimming with small chunks of seasoned beef.  The sides of Mexican Rice and Refried Beans were fresh tasting and surprisingly light.  An order of the exotic Pickled Cactus Salad (Nopales) had the right hint of vinegar without being too acidic, which my not-so-adventurous friend was stabbing at with curiosity after some time.  A washing down with the cinnamon-laced rice milk (Horchata) was perfect since it was not too sweet or too thick.   I knew I would eventually find some good Mexican eats around the LA area, and I’m glad I paid a visit to Mi Casa, with the help of modern technology, of course.

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024.jpgFor dinner, we decided to visit one my friend’s favorite haunts.  Harold and Belle’s has been serving Creole cuisine since 1969 in the heart of Black LA in the Crenshaw/Inglewood area.  Stepping in, you are immediately transported to the Southern bayou state with the French influenced décor that speaks of a forgotten era.  We started with the Filé Gumbo that was rich, although a bit thin, but filled with dark flavors from the brown roux, sassafras root, and the smoked meats.  Our mains started with Fried Catfish Strips that were amazingly light with a clean flavor and incredibly thin yet crispy cornmeal batter.  The sides consisted of Jambalaya, which was decent, and the Red Beans, which were smoky and flavorful from the use of smoked sausages.  The other main, a cocotte of Crawfish Etouffée, was just heavenly with its rich tomato based cream sauce and a plethora of moist and bouncy bits of peeled crawfish tails, whose richness was complemented by fluffy white rice.  Even though we were quite stuffed at this point, my friend insisted that I tried the Bread Pudding.  This dessert was indeed an eye-rolling-back and toe-curling experience with the moist pudding studded with sweet plump raisins that was drenched in a mean salty rum sauce that was boozy enough to call it a shot.  This is not cheap eats here but definitely worth visiting and lapping up the amazingly delicious food.  Just don’t ask the Bloods and Crypts gang members next to your table (I guess good food knows no boundaries) to take your picture – I should have noticed the tattooed teardrop under their eyes before my observant host stopped me.

The LA/Pasadena area has an amazing variety of good eats and different cuisines due to its multi-cultural population.  It is worth exploring these different places while one has to be a bit adventurous and have a good guide or host, or smart phone application, to find these places.   I’m sure there are many more eateries worth checking out, and I can’t wait to pay the West Coast another visit in the near future.