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.






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.




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.


El Patio

El Patio RestaurantThis is a busy time of year for me with various events going on at school and me dealing with restless youngin’s who are ready to run out of the building like bats out of hell, while we keep their unbridled energy hostage within the four walls. I have been meaning to write this blog a few weeks ago after paying an Argentine restaurant a few visits upon a friend’s recommendation as the result of his attending a wedding luncheon there recently. Well, this blog posting is well overdue.

El Patio is located in Loehmanns Plaza in busy Rockville, MD, sandwiched between other businesses, and it can be easily missed due to its narrow storefront. This suburban city has been on my radar as of late due to work-related meetings in that area, and I’m discovering wonderful gastronomic surprises in this part of town with its rich variety of immigrant populations, resulting in eating establishments opened to cater to them. After locating the restaurant, we walked into a rather shotgun space that exuded a sense of comforting welcome.

Empanada Tucumana

Spinach Empanada & Tortilla EspañolaThe recommender had mentioned that he was very impressed by the Empanadas here, and I knew that I had to sink my teeth into these appetizers as my meal-opener. The first order was the “top seller”, Empanada Tucumama, which comprised of beef, olives, tomato and raisins. One bite into it confirmed my friend’s reaction. The beef was not the usual dried out ground beef but instead small pieces of beef that exuded its moist meatiness, complemented by pieces of olive, tomato and raisin that lent their sweet, fruity, and salty notes to this mix that rounded off the palette of multi-flavors. Also, what amazed me was the a small of pool of savory juice encapsulated by the fried dough which stumped me for a few minutes. Then I figured out that they used the same technique of refrigerating the stuffing into a gelatinous mix before stuffing and frying the packets, much like what I noticed in the making of Xiao Long Bao or Soup Dumpling (see blog and photo). Another day’s order was the same dish but made with chicken – Empanada Tucumama de Pollo. These bites were equally tasty with the chicken filling made savory with the sweet from onions, vegetal notes from green peppers, and the richness from boiled eggs. To round off these orders, I tasted the spinach version in one of the visits, and I found it greaseless (from baking, unlike the above) and tasting fresh with the use of slightly bitter but fresh whole greens. At the same meal, I had to try their version of Tortilla Española. I ordered the simple potato type but it came with strands of green and red pepper weaving through the egg-potato mixture. Although this rendition was a surprise and non-traditional approach from the Continental version, I enjoyed every bite of it.

Prosciutto and Hearts of Palm

Another appetizer that caught my attention was Prosciuto Ham with Hearts of Palm. This cold cut dish makes a nod to the large influx of Italian immigrants to this South American nation, and the starch to the country’s semi-tropical climate. The rolls of ham were drier and thicker than the paper-thin imported slices. But once I got used to the textural difference, I began to appreciate its flavors which were a bit salty, mildy “porky”, faintly barn-like (a good thing here) and a hint of vinegar that cut through its rich qualities. The hearts of palm were the perfect counterfoil to the meaty bites with their mild and slightly vinegary softness. The side of potato salad (Ensalada Rusa – a typical Spanish side) was merely “meh” since it was rather bland and the pieces of carrots and peas uninspiring. But I would ignore this boring partner on the plate and focus on its tasty friends. The order is a generous portion to be shared with another diner.

Locro Soup

On one occasion I was in the mood for one of the two soup offerings in the house – Locro Soup. Despite my waiter’s preference for his wife’s version, I still went ahead with the order. What arrived was a large bowlful of deliciousness. Bits of beef, pork, and sausage flavored a broth studded with fresh corn, potato, and greens. With each bite, I was enjoying its mild and subtle flavors along with a sense of comfort that each spoonful exuded. The pieces of meat were soft and still retained flavor, the corn slightly sweet, and pieces of potato gave the bowl some body. I would say that this is probably the Argentinian chicken soup for a rainy or poor health day.

Parrillada para Dos

Ensalada RusaArgentinian cuisine, like its neighbor’s, Brazil, is renown for meat dishes especially grilled meats. My dining partner, who spent his early formative years in Buenos Aires, and I went for the Parrillada Para Dos. The large caste-iron plate arrived with a huge mound of grilled cuts of meats. Initially, I was overwhelmed by such sight since meat is never the “main” in my meals. I slowly picked my way through the meal by judiciously tasting small portions. At the end, I found some favorites that I enjoyed: Morcilla (blood sausage, harkening back to my Spanish college days) was savory with its slight mineral and dark-spice qualities, Tira de Asado (beef short ribs) was meaty, moist and smokey, as well as the usual cuts of chicken and flank steak. Some cuts that I wasn’t particularly fond of: Molleja (beef sweetbreads) which was surprisingly chewy and with its organ bitterness, and Chinchulines (intestines) which had the same texture and after-notes as with the sweetbreads. The side Chimichurri sauce (regular and spicy versions) were properly made and it imparted its vinegary and onion qualities to each bite along with fragrant notes from oregano and parsley. The side of carrot salad topped with slices boiled egg was nothing than just its raw elements. However, a dousing of vinegar and salad oil made it more palatable. Again, the potato salad was “meh” per the previous paragraph.  For a higher price, there is the Parrillada Buenos Aires in which better cuts of meat are served.  Note of caution: these orders are meant for at least 2, but I would say 3 is just fine.

Grilled Ribeye Steak

Another grilled meat order by my companion was Grilled Ribeye Steak. My friend’s preference for its cooking temperature was medium-well, which is overcooked in my mind. But a taste of the meat revealed something quite surprising. The meat was cooked at the right temperature, judging by the lack of redness, yet it retained a level of moisture that made it palatable. But what grabbed my attention was the aged flavor that came with each bite, pointing to a good piece of beef cooked perfectly on the searing grill.  The sweet potato fries were properly fried and greaseless, tasting freshly cut and naturally sweet. The steamed mixed vegetables were perfectly cooked, not tasting raw but remaining slightly firm to the bite and allowing their natural flavors to shine through. Such well-executed vegetables only point to attentive and skilled hands in the kitchen. An order of T-bone Steak by another friend was equally impressive with the meat served at its proper medium temperature.  Steaks are a must order in this house.

Grilled ChickenGrilled Tilapia

In addition to the steak dishes, we decided to give some non-beef dishes a taste. Grilled Chicken Breast was my friend’s order for lunch one day. Again, I was impressed by another grilled dish with the poultry tasting well-seasoned and smokey while retaining moisture, especially for breast meat. My companion was very satisfied with his dish, and rightfully so. My lunch consisted of the Grilled Fish. The fillet was well grilled and still moist from the dry heat. However, I found it to be a bit too salty in certain parts, and the mud-like flavor inherent in Tilapia was a bit overwhelming. The saving graces were the amazing steamed vegetables and a proper salad that made up for the seafood’s shortcomings.


Torta Tres LechesBesides empanadas and grilled proteins, this cuisine is also renown for desserts, and the display counter and tower not only tempt you with the sweet offerings but also serve as a reminder for the diner to save room for a sweet ending. Alforja was one of the orders. A huge cookie sandwich arrived comprising of two discs stuck together by caramelized condensed milk with bits of dried coconut shaving. I initially found the cookies a bit too dry and overwhelming, but after removing one of them, I started to enjoy the other elements with the better balanced mix. Another order was Quince Tart. I found the dough flaky but a tad too thick for my taste. The topping was not too sweet but fruity, reminding me of English fruit tarts – the British influence is present in Argentinian culture, and this dessert is a nod to the Continent. The last order was Torta Tres Leches. The cake was moist and rich from a soaking of slightly sweet combination of milk and condensed milk, topped with some whipping cream and colorful sprinkles. Even though we were stuffed from our meal, we were relishing every morsel with its rich and light qualities beckoning us to take another bite. No surprise it is the house’s top selling dessert.

El Patio RestaurantEl Patio is not a fancy restaurant and it does not purport to be one either.  But what dishes they serve, some are well-executed and very tasty, from the incredible Empanadas that are the perfect main-openers (or an assortment as my main course), to the Parrillada with some tasty (and not so favorable) cuts of meat, to the perfectly aged and grilled  steaks and chicken accompanied by perfectly steamed vegetables, and to the assortment of tempting desserts.  Judging by the low dish and wine prices, this establishment is not out to make a huge profit, but one that is committed to serve good home-style cooking for the expat and the locals.  The amiable and charming service gives an impression that everyone is welcome to just kick back and enjoy Argentine cuisine. I definitely will be back for more of their wonderful offerings in this unassuming diner.

El Patio on Urbanspoon

La Limeña

La Limeña

Plantain Chips, Fried Corn, Aji SaucesRecently, I paid a visit to a Peruvian restaurant (read blog) in the Rockville Town Center which left me quite satisfied with their offerings.  Perusing online, I came across many glowing reviews for another locale nearby serving the same South American cuisine – even a couple of co-workers had mentioned about their positive experiences at this establishment.  And so, with some enthusiasm and such affirmations in mind, I made a couple of trips to this newly discovered restaurant for this review.

La Limeña is tucked in a maze of strip malls, located just off the main thoroughfare, Route 355, in Rockville, MD, a suburban town that is growing in population as well as some good eats.  Walking in, you immediately notice the charcoal fueled grills and rotisserie with skewered chickens being turned as that day’s offering.  Past a display counter of glowingly seductive desserts, the dining room is actually smaller that what I imagined, perhaps due to the above-mentioned space-takers past the entrance.  But the dining room is welcoming with their granite tables filled with a line of smart-looking wait staff appearing eager to please the clientele.

Anticucho/Beef Heart

EmpanadaWhile munching on some complementary plantain chips and fried corn kernels (tasted like crunchy popcorn), I perused the menu and recognized some dishes from my recent blog and from past experiences with another eatery, as well as, interestingly, some Cuban dishes.  But I chose to stick with the South American cuisine.  A co-worker had mentioned to me to try Anticucho, which is grilled beef heart.  Two large skewers with large pieces of the offal arrived with a roasted potato and some pickled onions.   The pieces of heart were an interesting texture and flavor; the meaty morsels had a steak texture but with a firmer bounce much like skirt steak, and the flavor was much like beef but with a faint bitter note to remind you that this was not a regular cut of meat.  The salt level was sufficient to counteract the bitter note, paired with a faint smoke scent from the grilling, and a mild paprika-like flavor from the marination.  I was returning to these bites as I was trying to wrap my taste buds around these new flavors and textures.  Even though this dish was a novelty for me, eventually the skewers were a bit on a one-note level, and my interest was weaning off.  Another appetizer I had to savor was Empañada de Carne which is famous from this part of the world.  The pastry arrived with some powder sugar dusted on top, reminding me of the Moroccan sweet savory pastry, Bastilla, that I recently wrote about.  Breaking into it, the pastry was quite tender and flaky.  However, going through the filling, I was a bit nonplussed by the use of ground beef (instead of meat pieces), an insufficient amount of seasoning and moisture, and the lack of and the uneven distribution of raisins and olives (a single piece).  I must say that this was quite a let-down for a pastry that I am fond of, and surprisingly, in this restaurant.

Ceviche Mixto

A trip to a Peruvian eatery usually is not without an order of their famous appetizer – Ceviche. Here, I went for the whole package, Ceviche Mixto, which arrived with pieces of shrimp, squid, and fish, accompanied by some fresh corn, fried corn kernels, and pieces of sweet potato.  This rendition of the semi-cooked seafood was quite different from the version I wrote about a few blogs ago.  The pieces of shrimp were parboiled judging by their firm quality, the squid rings and tentacles similarly cooked but pliable and non-rubbery, and the pieces of fish were acid-cooked and had a bit firmer bounce than the other place, partly due to the thinner slices compared to the thick cubes in the aforementioned place.  Aside from the textural differences, the marinade was a creamier looking liquid with its strong lime juice and a good chili hit that added the necessary acidic and spice to the whole mix that made the whole dish delectable and completely irresistible.  The side accompaniments adequately provided the sweet and crunch as a foil to the soft tart seafood.  I could see why many customers were ordering this large appetizer as their main course as I satisfyingly finished my dish off.

Parihuela/Seafood Stew

Trucha Frita/Fried TroutContinuing with the sea theme, a couple of these dishes were ordered by my dining partners.  Parihuela is a coastal seafood soup from Peru (as listed on the menu), and the bowl arrived brimming with sea creatures crawling out of the sea, I mean soup.  A taste of the broth indicated the use of a good dosage of garlic, some tomato sauce and white wine for some slight fruitiness, and a good seafood stock for some body.  I did not get to taste the pieces of crab, mussels, clams, squid and scallops that looked very fresh and quite large in size.  But the orderer left nothing behind, an indication with his level of satisfaction with this bowlful, which he expressed later; the side of perfectly cooked white rice provided the starch to make this dish a meal.  The other companion’s order was Trucha Frita al Ajo.  A whole boneless trout was lightly floured and pan-fried, partnered with some of that well-cooked rice, fried batons of yucca, and the ubiquitous onion salad.  The fish was still moist and tasted fresh with some good proper seasoning that made each bite delightful – a light slathering of butter and some toasted garlic chips added some more flavor and texture to the soft sweet flesh. The side of fried yucca was “meh” according to the diner, but what more can you do with fried root starch.

Aji de Gallina/Chicken Stew

Pollo a la BrasaAji de Gallina is a renown Peruvian dish that I had seen on menus, and I decided to order it this time.  Pieces of stripped chicken (dark meat, my preference), arrived coated by a yellowish sauce.  According to the menu description, the chicken has been cooked in a concoction of milk, yellow aji (mild Peruvian pepper), and spices to produce this rather thick stew.  The first forkful reminded me of some good Chicken Pot Pie filling, and I kept going back to it for its savoriness and sense of comfort-food that the rich stew spoke to my tongue. Yes, it is a simple dish with uncomplicated flavors, but I could imagine this as a go-to dish when one is under the weather or longing for some TLC.  The single olive (sigh, but so tasty), boiled egg, boiled potato, and rice made up the rest of the meal to round off the experience.  An order on another day was Pollo a la Brasa, or Rotisserie Chicken.  The first mouthful pointed towards a moist and smoky chicken, albeit a bit oversalted for my taste.  After getting past the skin, the seasoning was adequate for the meat.  The side of black beans was very appetizing, with their not-so-overly softness (obviously freshly made), their slight oregano scent, and a level of smokiness from liquid smoke since I didn’t taste any meat flavor in the bowl.  Interestingly, beans do not automatically come with rice here; hence, I had to get some from the seafood soup diner.

Picarones/Peruvian Doughnuts

Lucama Ice CreamUsually not one for sweets after a meal, I knew I had to try a couple of interesting sounding desserts.  The first was Picarones. Basically, they are doughnuts made from sweet potato and pumpkin flours, served with a caramel-like honey.  The beautiful dish arrived with this thin and light fried rings that were slightly crispy on the outside but spongy inside.  There was a faint sweet overtone in the dough that reminded of its nature, tasting different from the usual bland wheat flour version.  But what took these bites to the “I’m addicted” level was the Chancaca honey that exuded its molasses character along with some bitter orange-like notes which competed for my gastronomic attention as well as the fried bites.  Another order was Lucuma ice cream that was recommended by my waitress and is known as the most popular dessert in house.  The carotene-orange scoops arrived in a beautiful cup along with an alfajor, a caramel-filled flaky cookie sandwich.  The first mouthful was revealing: there was a level of creaminess, a moderate vanilla-note, and a texture that pointed towards that exotic subtropical Andean fruit.  The mouth feel of these scoops was slightly akin to smooth sweet potato that was an indication of the fruit’s exotic presence in this frozen custard, along with a faint maple syrup-like flavor.  This unique cold bite got my tongue’s attention, even in the midst of late fall, and I was done with the whole bowl before I knew it.

AlfajoresLa Limeña offers some truly wonderful authentic dishes from the motherland.  Yes, I was not very impressed with the Empanada and a bit underwhelmed by the beef hearts, but I warmed up to the rest of the menu quickly.  The Ceviche was as good as it gets, the seafood soup brimmed with incredibly fresh shellfish and crab in a well-made soup, the fried trout was moist and complemented by the fried garlic chips, the charcoal-cooked chicken was smoky and savory even with its slight heavy-handed saltiness, and the Aji de Gallina spoke of Peruvian comfort food.  But, it was the desserts that impressed me the most with the Picarones moistened by that incredibly tongue-haunting honey, as well as the subtly exotic Lucuma ice-cream that kept me digging into the bowl.  No wonder this place is full all the time with families, couples, and many ex-pats who seem to savor a piece of their nostalgia from this establishment.  The ending complementary of Alfajor was the sweet gesture to seal this gastronomic experience for anyone, reviewer or not.

La Limena on Urbanspoon

La Canela

La Canela RestaurantA couple of years back, a college friend invited me to dinner at the newly opened Rockville Town Center in Maryland at a new Thai restaurant (read blog). On my way out, we stumbled across another new establishment serving Peruvian cuisine that peaked my curiosity since I knew of only one locale serving such fare located in DC which has been a regular haunt of mine and my dinner group (read blog). After perusing its menu displayed by its door, I have been meaning to stop by to try out its appealing menu. Well, more than two years has passed by and last Sunday was the opportunity for me to stop by with an online coupon in hand.

CevicheEntering the doors of La Canela, you are enveloped by a space that exudes an ambience of Spanish Colonial with wrought iron in its windows and banisters, further weighted down by heavy and chunky wood furniture. I chose a table by the window in order to get some good light for the food photos. Perusing the menu, a half-portion of Fish Ceviche stood out due to the smaller plate size and its must-order aura due to its reputation within this South American cuisine. The bowl arrived neatly dressed with the various elements showing a rather careful hand putting the dish together. One bite into the dish spoke its language: the star ingredient here was the pieces of mild-tasting and very fresh mahi-mahi that was slightly milky from being “cooked” from the tart lemon juice while still retaining the slightly raw sashimi-like texture and flavor, as if it were a form of Peruvian Sushi. The other notes in the sea-sweet fish pieces were some slight heat from fresh red aji (chilies) and fragrance from cilantro. To balance out the acid, a piece of boiled sweet potato and some imported Peruvian corn kernels (choclo) provided the necessary sweet relief. But I was blown away by the super-size of the corn and its thick skin that reminded me of hominy, which immediately whisked me away to the Motherland of corn in the Andes. The pickled red onions added a note of more acid and some pungency that dressed these mild flavors. This was an excellent rendition and great-tasting Ceviche, making it the perfect opener from this cuisine.

Yuquitas de Cangrejo/Crabmeat CroquettesWith lots of value on the deal, I decided to try another appetizer that caught my attention due to its unique description – Yuquitas de Cangrejo. Two plump croquettes arrived with a bowl of pinkish side sauce. Breaking into them, the stuffing of crab meat in a reddish sauce revealed itself. One bite into it, I was perplexed by the flavors and textures. The outer casing was soft and quite sweet, reminding me of sweet potato rather than the more mealy and bland Yuca root listed in the menu – my waiter confirmed that the later was the tuber used, which I beg to differ. The stuffing was quite generous with the crab meat, listed as “jumbo lump” on the menu, mixed with a “Sarza Criolla” sauce that tasted a bit spicy and tomato-based. However, due to the sweetness of the “yuca” and the slightly sweet and spicy stuffing sauce, the mild seafood was nearly lost in the whole mix, and pretty much did not stand a chance with the other flavors, this being a common flaw found in many restaurants dealing with this delicate ingredient. The side spicy mayo-based sauce, “Recoto Emulsion”, was tasty but yet another foe to the poor pieces of crab.

Arroz con Pato/Duck with Rice

Arroz con Pato was the first dish listed in the Entree section, which sounded very appealing to me. The impeccably dressed plate arrived with the different elements carefully arranged – photos never lie. But the proof is in the pudding, or in the tasting. The main star, listed as Mallard duck on the menu, had its skin cooked crispy but the fat underneath was not completely rendered as I would have liked it, but that was easily solved with some gentle scraping to salvage the luscious crackling. The meat underneath was rich, well-seasoned, still quite moist, and falling off the bone, a la confit, which I was enjoying every morsel despite being a bit greasy. The side of rice was interesting and quite tasty, listed as cooked with green aji, cilantro and dark beer, which lent some fragrant vegetal, a mild chili bite, and slightly bitter hop flavors to each grain, studded with sweet red peppers, green peas, and that-so-intriguing Andean corn – my only quibble was that the rice could have been cooked with a bit more moisture. The side sauces were intriguing and matched formidably with the strong dark meat: the yellow one was made with mustard, cream and parmigiano; the green was a combination of mustard, green aji, and olive oil that exuded some of its fruity notes. The side “salad” of pickled onions and tomato bits seems de rigeur with each dish served here, providing some acidic pungency to clear the palate from the rich duck flavor. Despite some minor flaws, this is a very tasty duck dish and it was worth ordering.

Torta Tres LechesWith a bit of value left on the online deal, I decided to order some dessert, and I chose a Latin American favorite – Torta Tres Leches, since the Pastry Chef was on vacation and my initial choice, Chirimoya Panna Cotta, was not available. The cake arrived looking pretty with a Creme Anglaise and Raspberry Coulis pattern sitting on top, accompanied by some fresh blackberries and some whipped cream. One bite into it revealed a rich light cake made moist by a soaking of the “three milks”, a mixture of regular, condensed, and evaporated milk. It was a relief that this dessert was not too sweet, but the cake was a bit too rich for me, since the raspberry coulis was not fruity enough to maintain my interest, and the lack of some vanilla notes in the cake mix was no help either. This dessert was not bad (I’ve had better) but I think that Panna Cotta amiss from the days’ offering would have been the ideal finale. The Peruvian Doughnuts sounded very appealing with its unique description, but alas, I’m on a diet, supposedly.

La Canela RestaurantLa Canela takes Peruvian cuisine to a higher refined level judging by the well-prepared and beautifully presented dishes.  The opening half-portion Ceviche was the perfect appetizer with the so-fresh fish barely cooked by the acidic lemon juice, and matched by the intriguing Andean super-corn and sweet potato.  The Crab Croquette was a mismatch of ingredients in my mind, but the cooking was nearly flawless.  The Duck with Rice dish was quite a masterpiece with the piece of leg and the interesting rice cooked to near perfection; fortunately their minor flaws were compensated by their satisfying flavors.   Although the Tres Leches cake was not bad and didn’t keep my interest for long, I sense that the other desserts listed would have gone well with me if only they were available if the Dessert Chef were not playing hooky.  Yes, waiting two years was a bit too long to come back to pay this restaurant my first visit, but better late than never.

La Canela on Urbanspoon

Joe’s Noodle House

It’s has been nearly a year since my visit to a Chinese restaurant and writing my first blog on this Asian cuisine. I had resisted for some time since starting my blog due to the fact that I was raised on top quality Chinese food in Southeast Asia, and most of my experiences in the DC area with such Far Eastern offerings have been sub par and rather disappointing. But I must admit that I quite enjoyed my experience at Bob’s Noodle 66 (read blog), and enough time has passed by for me to recover from one of the most challenging culinary concoction that has ever traversed across these taste buds – Stinky Tofu.

_6001805.jpgA few weeks ago, I headed up to Rockville, MD, an area that I usually avoid due to the traffic congestion and the equally packed streets with businesses that vie for one’s attention. But the area has a high Asian population, and there are many eating establishments that cater to their gastronomic cravings. So when I picked up a friend for dinner, I suddenly remembered about a place that had rave reviews for their authentic Chinese fare especially their Szechuan dishes. Being a man of travels, my friend agreed to this culinary adventure with me, and we trotted into Joe’s Noodle House.

_6001808.jpgUpon walking into the restaurant, you sense its immediate funkiness indicating a level of authenticity that spells food-for-the-recent-immigrant. After being shown to our table, we had to place our order at the front cashier counter. Next to it is a refrigerated display case filled with various side dishes that peak the curiosity of the diner staring at the not-so-familiar dishes. I immediately recognized an offering that I had not eaten in a long time – Jellyfish Salad. One can easily mistaken the semi-translucent strands as some noodle dish, but knowing what it was, I immediately grabbed it. The long strands were a bit bouncy, slightly crunchy, and at the same time silky smooth. It had quite a bit of salt that this seafood calls for with a good hit of sesame oil that brought some rich nuttiness to each sliver. The bits of green onion added a hint of pungency to this mild dish. I really enjoyed this rare opportunity to savor this small side dish, and it was a delicious opener to the meal.

_6001812.jpg_6001813.jpgMy dining companion and I could not resist ordering a couple more side dishes. My friend’s order was Spicy Chicken Gizzard. Cold pieces of cooked chicken gizzard were cooked in some chili oil exuding its piquancy to each bite. A level of dark spices, most likely Szechuan peppercorn, left its woodsy trail after each bite, along with a slight mineral-like quality that this organ meat possesses. However, he was not used to a gizzard dish served cold, but I was intrigued by its flavors especially the unique Szechuan spice. Another order was Spicy Sweet and Sour Cabbage. Pieces of pickled cabbage were both sweet and slightly sour with each crunchy cold bite. It was definitely more sweet than sour without being cloying. Hints of fresh ginger punctuated these bites which made it more interesting that its simple appearance –  a delicious hit for both of us.


For the main course, my order was String Beans Szechuan Style with Pork. Judging by the wrinkly exterior, whole string beans have been flash fried in searing oil that cooked them through while maintaining their slight natural crunch. The savory and garlicky sauce was a salty complementary foil to the natural sweetness of the vegetable which made this flavor combo completely irresistible. The small bits of pork were well seasoned and spiced with some Szechuan peppercorn that turned them into a tasty flavoring element, which meat serves as in most Chinese dishes on the mainland. I enjoyed my leftovers the next day and I still marveled with each mouthful of the string beans with its salty-sweet combination.  A vegetarian version is also available and I’m quite sure that it is equally tasty.


The other main dish was a house specialty – Dan Dan Noodles. A bowl of ramen-like egg noodles arrived topped with bits of spiced pork and some green onions. As we started to pick at the noodles, our waitress quickly advised us to give it a good mix and warned us that it would be too salty if we didn’t heed her advice. So, we gave it a good mix, and underneath that unassuming mound was a pool of chili oil that tainted the whole bowl like bloody murder. The noodles were spiced by the red oil made interesting by the pork bits that have been made fragrant by the Szechuan peppercorn that seem to transubstantiate into something that belied its porcine nature. We both enjoyed this dish a lot, and now we know why this dish was highly recommended by the Washington Post food critic – good call, Mr. Critic.

_6002147.jpg_6002150.jpgOn another visit with a longtime friend, we choose a couple of different side dish starters. Shredded Radish with Hot Sauce was our first order. Thinly julienned Daikon radish have been pickled in a sweet and sour solution made red by a pool of chili oil. This was a bit funky for me since I was slightly put off by the amount of chili oil used in the dish, which I kept draining off each chopstick full of the vegetable – I have heard a fair deal of complaints of oily dishes in mainland China and there is no exception in this establishment. The other side dish was Beef Tendon in Hot Sauce. This was also a funky cold dish that I warmed up to after a few bites. Pieces of cooked beef tendon were slightly chewy yet quite flavorful made by the Szechuan peppercorn and chili oil. What I liked about this dish was its off-the-beaten-path character that transported me to rural China where tendon is a major source of protein, alongside its slightly funky texture and interesting flavors.

_6002157.jpgMy friend’s main course was from its vegetarian menu – Eggplant with Basil in Garlic Sauce. Pieces of Asian eggplant have been flash fried and paired with basil leaves cooked in a brown garlic sauce. This was quite tasty with the vegetable made soft from the frying and fragrant from whole pieces of basil leaves. The brown sauce was very savory made tastier by a good hit of garlic. However, being an eggplant dish, it was quite oily for my taste but I was quick to overlook the downside of this dish after a few bites.






Chicken Sesame Noodle unmixedChicken Sesame Noodle mixed

My lunch order was another noodle dish that caught my attention on the previous trip – Spicy Cold Pasta with Sesame Sauce and Chicken. Cold egg Lo Mein noodles came topped with julienne of carrot, beansprouts, and strips of boiled chicken. Having learnt from my last trip with the other noodle dish, I give the dish a good mix to reveal the sesame sauce under the pile of pasta. The thick strands of pasta were enriched by the rich nutty sesame sauce mixed with chili oil and made less stodgy by the fresh vegetables and the cold chicken. This was a quickly filling dish due to the thick pasta and rich sauce, which could have done with a hint of acidity to lighten the mouth feel and flavor (my Southeast Asian gastronomic conditioning kicking in here). However, I found it quite enjoyable and authentic, and I was soon happily slurping the noodles away.

The offerings that I savored at Joe’s Noodle House speak of a level of authenticity that is not found in most Chinese restaurants in the DMV area, offering delicious dishes and some interesting bites to the more adventurous (there’s the pig ear salad!).  The regular and vegetarian menus are extensive, and there is at least a dish that anyone can enjoy.  Never mind the funky-looking place and the pool of oil in some of the dishes – that’s another level of authenticity that comes with the culinary experience.  With this kind of food, I’m looking forward to trying more of their dishes, the familiar and not-so-familiar.  Thank God/Buddha that Stinky Tofu is not on the menu! LOL

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Bob’s Noodle 66

As far as ethnic cuisines go, visiting a Chinese restaurant is far from the top of my list.  Why?  Having grown up in Southeast Asia, I have been spoiled by great eats around me ranging from my maternal grandmother’s delectable rendition of Cantonese cuisine (at least 8 main dishes for dinner each night) to fine dining at top Chinese restaurants in Kuala Lumpur where the offerings were so sumptuous but way beyond the skill set of the home cook.  A suggestion of eating Chinese food here usually conjures up in me a visceral aversion and a few brief flashes of nondescript dishes further marred by non-distincitive flavors that tend to look and taste like a complete brown-hued blur.   Simply put, I have never been happy by these offerings and I try to avoid them at all cost.

Well, since I have started food blogging, the sense of equal opportunity has been overriding this dread for the cuisine (is there a Food EEOC Police?), and it has thrown down the gauntlet in my search for something worth writing about.  While conversing with a buddy on Facebook (who has time to pick up the phone and chat, right?), he suggested Bob’s Noodle 66 near the Rockville Town Center that he has visited a number of times.  Located in a vast parking lot among other non-restaurant establishments, its offerings cater to the Taiwanese palate that is influenced by all the directions being an island off the coast of mainland China.  Having watched a few bizarre foods episodes on cable, I had heard of some of these “unique” dishes and one was sitting on top on my curiosity list – Stinky Tofu.  I knew I was going to get on a gastronomic ride, and I was ready for it.

Bob's Noodle 008.jpgWe started with a round of Bubble Tea.  These are green teas that have been mixed with various fruit juices, made with or without milk.  They arrived with huge straws in order to suck up the pea-size tapioca balls at the bottom looking like tadpole eggs about to come to life.  Mine was made with the exotic Lychee fruit that packed that unique flavor that is quite indescribable except for the word refreshing.  An aftertaste of tea bitterness lingers in the mouth once the sweetness has dissipated from the tongue, which is indicative of the strong tea essence.  I have to admit that I enjoyed this odd but rather refreshing drink, including the chewy bits at the bottom of my glass.

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My friend insisted that we tried the Taiwanese Hamburger to start the meal off.  I was kind of hesitant at first, not wanting to go for something that sounded like an Americanized dish.  When it arrived, I realized that its name is a total misnomer, and I bit into it with some curiosity.  The slice of braised pork was very fragrant, moist and savory, punctuated by an interesting mix of sour pickled mustard greens (much like sauerkraut) and a nutty mix of crushed peanuts and sugar, highlighted by some fresh cilantro, and all packaged by some fluffy and light steamed Chinese buns.   Wow!  This small bite packed lots of flavor and gustatory interest, and we could have eaten more of it.  But we had to make room for the rest of the ride.

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For the next appetizer, we ordered the Fragrant Bean Curd Skin Roll.  It is made with a stuffing of minced fish meat, onion, water chestnuts, wrapped in bean curd skin, deep-fried, and slathered by a slightly sweet sauce.  This dish brought back the memory of my grandmother’s version but the restaurant’s offering was milder than my grandmother’s heavily spiced one.  However, I did enjoy the smooth meaty fish cake stuffing, the crunchy water chestnut bits, and the sauce on top that made this an interesting sweet-and-sour combination without going overboard like most Chinese take-outs.  Another good eat.

While we were waiting for the other dishes, anticipation was building up for “The Dish”.  The Stinky Tofu seemed to be sitting at everyone’s table which somehow reassured me that it was going to be quite tasty and OK after all.  No-one seemed to be doubled-over their chairs or running to the bathroom in panic.  I thought to myself that there was probably more hype over its infamous reputation.

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The next appetizer was a plate of Oyster Pancake.  It is a pancake made with sweet potato powder, eggs, and oysters, sitting on a bed of Chinese spinach and topped by a sauce.  The pancake was soft, very light and fluffy with bits of equally soft baby oysters, and flavored by the savory sauce.  This dish did conjure up the memory of a similar dish that I used to enjoy at the seafront restaurants in my father’s hometown in Malaysia.  This dish was milder than the Southeast Asian version but interestingly they go by the same Hokkien name, thus pointing to its Fujianese origin.  I quite enjoyed it but it was not exactly a study of contrast of flavors and textures – everything was just soft and fluffy, which a friend found disconcerting (most Americans have this textural issue).  Not bad for me, though.

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Drumroll – Stinky Tofu arrives.  Nothing from its appearance made it stand out as it looked just like any regular fried tofu dish.  Although it is listed as “Crispy Smelled Bean Curd”, the waft that it exuded announced its arrival loud and clear.  Still feeling that it was rather innocuous and not so foul, I was excited about the dish.  First bite.  OMG, WTH, WTF, SMH, LOL, IDK, IWC (I wanna cry), LMAO, Call a friend, Call your Momma, Call your pastor, Call the Almighty!  I am lost for words!  The best way to describe it is an Asian vegetarian version of chitlins (chitterlings, for those unschooled in the parlance), which I have had my share of (only 2 spoonsful) living in the Mid-South.  Why would someone want to eat this?  It is tofu that has been fermented in a blue-green bacteria bath for a few weeks.  Well, if some folks like chitlins, I guess there are others that enjoy a similar version, albeit made from soybeans.   Thank goodness for the spicy cabbage pickles that sat on top that provided the necessary relief (much-needed) from this mind-blowing bite.  Once I got past a couple of pieces, I went back for more (are you crazy?), trying to wrap my brain around the crispy and spongy bits that were sending me on a rollercoaster ride.  Oh wow – Need I say more!

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Bob's Noodle 006.jpgTo even out the rough going ride from the previous dish and bring us down from the mind-blowing tizzy, a couple of main dishes arrived,  and thank God/Buddha/Universe. One of the mains was Shredded Pork with Bamboo Tips.  Pieces of young tender bamboo tips have been sautéed with thin slivers of pork and spiked with some fresh chilis.  The light sauce was very savory and fragrant, which made the dish a hit among all of us.  The other dish was Sautéed Baby Short Rib with Black Pepper.  Thin slivers of short rib are coated by a black pepper sauce (peppery for sure) that added the body and piquancy to the thick savory sauce coating the meat.  Despite a few rather sinewy pieces, this was very delectable and finger-licking good for me.

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Still reeling from the Stinky Tofu incident whose undeniable impression was still lingering in our taste buds and minds, we did not hesitate for a split second to order a dessert dish to cleanse our palate.  Shaved Ice can be ordered with different toppings, and for ours, we chose grass jelly, Lychee fruit, red beans, and taro root.  Above the toppings, sits a mound of shaved ice that is flavored with evaporated milk and sugar syrup.  Again, this brought back childhood memories of enjoying this favorite cooling bite for lunch in my school canteen or at local coffee shops in Southeast Asia.  My eating companions and I attacked this shaved ice mountain with full gusto, enjoying the various toppings that provided the different textural and flavor elements.  Besides cleansing our mouths from all previous dishes, most importantly “the one”, these sweet offering held its weight as a refreshing and very pleasing dessert.  Great ending and safe landing from the ride.

Bob’s Noodle 66 is quite a trip on a few levels.  Along with the mostly delectable offerings in this eatery (I can’t wait to taste their large offerings of noodles), it appears that “the dish” that was not so appetizing for me was a great hit among the cognoscenti of the strange and exotic, thus my objective appreciation for this kitchen’s authenticity.  In addition to this, the place provides pure Taiwan here – loud, crammed, pushy and frenetic wait staff (the check came with the dessert), and large crowds.  If you can overlook these shortcomings and deal with the frenziness, here is the place to taste some authentic Taiwanese offerings.  And I dare you to order “The Dish”.  Go ahead and make your day.

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