Tuesday, August 10, 2010

MGM Roast Beef Review

I know when you think of a dive you don't typically think of freshly carved sandwiches, but in the case of MGM Roast Beef, you will indeed find a small hidden dive, that delivers just that. Since moving to DC 12 years ago, I am always on the lookout for random dive restaurants as I drive from place to place. In the case of MGM Roast Beef, I have to admit, that I must have driven past this place a hundred times on my way to the Home Depot. I thought for sure, that it was some kind of meat packing place. I would have never imagined that inside this nondescript corner building would be a clean well diner, serving breakfast and not much more then freshly carved sandwiches during lunch (they are not open at dinner).

The system is simple at MGM. Stand in line (I have never had to wait more then 10 minutes), write your sandwich order on a piece of paper, hand it to the person behind the desk, and then wait for your sandwich at the cashier. While most of their business it take out, there are about 20 bright red stools around their lunch counter, which gives the feel of a 50's diner. As the name implies, roast beef is the specialty here. When we say roast beef though, we are not talking about the stuff you find at subway, or at the grocery deli. At MGM we are talking about fresh cooked, dripping with juices, brisket or top round. Regardless of the sandwich you choose, I recommend ponying up the .35 cents for the Onion/Poppy role. Other then that, the choice is yours. Fresh horseradish (or they even have horsey sauce for those of you who grew up on Arby's), 3 different mustard's, sautéed onions, or peppers, several hot pepper choices and the typical L,T,O are just some of the options offered on all sandwiches. On my most recent dining experience I went with the brisket, on an onion roll with horseradish, sautéed onions, hot peppers, and provolone. I am sure no matter what I got on it, I would have loved it. However, I have to say that this sandwich was awesome. The meat was perfect, and juicy, and unlike chain sandwich places, there was enough meat on this sandwich that a good portion of it will likely fall out as you eat it.

Ok, so enough about the roast beef, I know this perfect slice of red meat is not for everyone. So is there anything for the non roast beef fans? The answer is a resounding yes. I can vouch for both the turkey and Ham sandwiches. (See a picture below that does not even come close to doing either sandwich justice). For the turkey, I went with a spicy mustard, Swiss cheese, and wait for it... cranberry chutney that made the sandwich. While standing in line I was 100% sure that I was going to spring extra for the “white meat only” turkey. However, I was lucky enough that the woman in front of me ordered the dark meat. To explain to you how fresh everything is here, I can best do it by describing how they prepared her sandwich. Once her bread was all condimented up, the carver reached into his oven area, and pulled out a giant turkey leg (the kind you would see on your thanksgiving table), and literally pulled off meat and placed it on her sandwich. This was no day old meat in a container getting all greasy. This was fresh off the bone, warm, perfectly roasted turkey meat. Needless to say I immediately changed my order to a mix of white and dark. I don't have any fun stories about the ham preparation, but the final result was a fantastic ham and cheese sandwich.

As you can probably tell by now, I love this place. Let me tell you though, I have not even gotten to the best part. At the little fridge by the cashier they have slices of cakes and pies (though I have to admit, that I do not know if they are made in house or not). One my last two occasions at MGM I made sure to get a piece of their carrot cake. I can honestly say this was the best carrot cake I have ever had. My one friend who hates carrot cake finally had a bite, after I would not shut up about it, and even she admitted it was fantastic. Now back to that little fridge. In it you can also find several choices of soda, and a personal favorite of mine, coconut juice. The only slight disappointment about MGM was also found in that same fridge. We decided to get a side of potato salad that left us wanting for a bit more taste then the miracle whip and chunks of potato provided. I would say skip the salads in the fridge, and if you really need more then just the sandwich you can always get chips or fries (which I never tried).

Overall, I would say that MGM is a real find. I have found myself coming up with excuses to go to the nearby Home Depot these days. Even though I live just a mile or so from Letteri's and two different Taylor's locations, I am finding my cravings for MGM to be overwhelming (though I still find time to hit up Taylor's often). This is a place that will reward you for venturing into a neighborhood that offers not much more then the Brentwood post office. I highly recommend.

MGM Roast Beef is located at 1905 Brentwood Road Northeast, Washington, DC

MGM Roast Beef & Co on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chez Manelle Review

When reviewing restaurants I have tried to avoid making definitive factual statements, because after all my review is just my opinion.  However, with Chez Manelle I can say as fact that it is unquestionably the best Tunisian restaurant in the DC area.  Sadly it’s not because of its great food, but because it is the ONLY Tunisian restaurant in the area.  Located in Clarendon near the courthouse metro, the restaurant is ideally located, yet when we arrived at 8:00 the only people in the restaurant were the 4-5 waiters standing around watching TV.  That should have been our first hint, but we decided to go ahead and order several appetizers and a couple of main entrees. 
Once our first appetizer arrived we began to think we might have found a gem.  We started with the Mechouia, which is a grilled salad with egg, olives and tuna on top.  The combination of the grilled salad and veggies, along with the toppings was a perfect combination and got our mouth's watering for the next dishes to arrive.  If only we had stopped there.  The following appetizers went from boring to greasy and bland.  We decided since it was a Middle Eastern restaurant that we should at least try their hummus.  If this was homemade, they need a new recipe.  It was bland and a bit stiff.  The only thing that made it passable was the Mlawi bread that we ordered and devoured with the hummus.  The Mlawi bread is very similar to Roti that you can find at a Malaysian or Indian restaurant.   Next up was the Brika which is phyllo dough stuffed with tuna, potato, capers, and eggs, then dropped in a deep fryer till done.  I am not sure if my description sounded good, but it was not meant to.  The Brika was both tasteless (which is hard to understand with all those fillings) and dripped of oil (see picture below). 

The two entrees continued the theme of exciting on paper, but boring in reality.  Couscous with lamb had little to no flavor at all.  The veggies grilled on top had no seasoning, the lamb was bland, and the couscous tasted like it was poured right out of a box with no flavor added.  Yet it was the Kaftaji that truly disappointed, not because it was worse than the couscous, but because the description looked so good.  The Kaftaji was described as fried potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggs, onions and spices all mixed together with sausage on top.  How could that possibly be bad?  For starters, the “fried potatoes” were nothing more than undercooked french fries.  The sausage was once again bland.  The rest of the mix was pretty good (considering all the different ingredients that were in it), but once again lacked any real seasoning. 

To try to forget the food I ended on a Tunisian mint tea which really was excellent.  However, it was not good enough to make me forget how sub-par most of the food was.  It was not that anything was really bad, it was just that most of the food underwhelmed and left you wanting more flavor.  I love ethnic restaurants and believe most people would agree that when we veer away from standard American food, we are usually craving different flavors and spices.  Sadly, at Chez Manelle you do not get that.  I would not recommend Chez Manelle for a good meal, but if it is a nice night out, I would recommend heading over there to smoke a hookah and enjoy a Turkish mint tea.   Just don't be tempted by the descriptions of their menu items....
Chez Manelle is located at 2313 North Wilson Boulevard Arlington, VA

Chez Manelle on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

El Chalan Review

For most of us in the DC area, when we think of Peruvian food we tend to think of the dozens of fantastic Peruvian chicken places like El Pollo Ricco.  However, there is so much more to Peruvian food then just chicken and El Chalan proves that in many ways.

Located in a small basement row house on the border of the Foggy Bottom and Golden Triangle neighborhoods, El Chalan seems to cater mostly to regulars and Peruvian ex-pats who are craving the taste of their homeland.  The restaurant is small, but cozy.  On busy nights it can get quite loud, but on slower nights, it is a nice relaxing place to be.  The service can be hit and miss depending how crowded it is, as they usually have only two servers.  On my last visit, despite the place being packed, we got our food pretty quickly from a very attentive waiter, who even when busy was able to see me signaling him across the room for more beers. 
Before I get to the food, I have to confess that I am a little bias.  Next to Japanese food, I think Peruvian food is the most diverse and flavorful food in the world, so it is no surprise that I loved the food at El Chalan.  On my last visit, our group started with two appetizers.  The first was the Ceviche Mixto which consisted of fish, squid, shrimp, and mussel.  While Ceviche is a now a very popular food with many Latin American countries with their own unique spin on the dish, it is Peru (though some argue Equador) where it all started.  At El Chalan the preparation is uniquely Peruvian.  Fresh seafood marinated in lime juice served with cooked sweat potato, corn and onions.  It is simple, yet the taste can’t be beat.  The only issue I had with the ceviche had nothing to do with the fish, it was the disappointment that they clearly used corn out of a can instead of the larger fresh corn you would find in Peru .  Next we ordered the Anticuchos El Chalan, which is simply marinated beef hearts (first picture below) grilled to perfection.  If you can get over the fact that you are eating heart, I can assure you that you will love the Antichuchus.  It can best be compared to thinly sliced cut of beef, which is marinated and seared to perfection.  Again, I know it might be hard to get over the fact you are eating heart (my girlfriend refused to eat it) but you will regret it if you do not give it a shot. 
 We next moved on to the main courses which did not let down either.  My personal favorite was the Arroz a La Chiclayana (chicken and rice), which is very similar to an arroz con pollo that you would find in any Cuban restaurant.  Being born and raised in Miami , arroz con pollo was a staple in my diet.  The Arroz a La Chiclayna at El Chalan had the same flavorful rice, and moist chicken that I am used to in chicken and rice dishes.  However, this dish differentiates itself from the Cuban version by relying on a heavy dose of cilantro which adds a wonderful flavor along with a unique green color.   
The Cabrito Norteno consisted of perfectly cooked, fall off the bone, goat served in a beer based stew.  On the really lucky bites, you can get just the right combination of meat and fat that just melts in your mouth.  The Lomo Saltado is another reliable, but slightly bland, choice served at El Chalan.  Lomo Saltado is another dish that many Latin American restaurants serve (especially El Salvadorian), yet once again it is a Peruvian originated dish that consists of sautéed stripped steak with onions tomatoes and french fries.  Yes french fries are actually mixed into this dish, not served as a side.  My girlfriend really liked this dish, but I have had it with more flavor and more spice at other places.  Served with your meal is a generous basket of Peruvian white bread.  I would not normally mention white bread in this blog, but this bread is so moist and sweet it must be mentioned.  It is very similar to challah but just a little more dense.  It is served with both butter, and a spicy hot paste that I wound up putting on everything. 
So if you are looking to branch out a little on your Peruvian eats, I would strongly recommend El Chalan.  They might not have the Peruvian chicken we all love, but they will open you up to a cuisine that is undiscovered and under appreciated in this area.
EL Chalan is located at  1924 I Street Northwest, Washington DC

El Chalan on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Quarterdeck review

If you are looking for a place to get some of the best crabs in DC without having to drive out to the Bay, Quarterdeck is the place for you. Tucked into a Rosslyn neighborhood on a side street, Quarterdeck allows you to feel like you are away from the city while still being just a few minutes outside of town. As with most crab houses the atmosphere is simple. As the name implies, they do have a nice size deck, perfect for those summer days. They also have ample room inside, with a separate bar and basement area that has pool tables and dart boards. Nothing about the atmosphere will blow you away, but nor should it.

Who goes to a crab house for atmosphere, you go for the crabs, and that is where Quarterdeck shines. Even on a night when they only had medium size crabs available, the quality of the crabs was still excellent. Those little guys might be a little bit more work, but the meat was sweet and the seasoning was perfect. I can only imagine a night when they have the big boys available. While I am on the highlights I need to make it clear that their homemade key lime pie was superb. Light, yet rich and tart, it is everything this Florida native could ask for.

While the Crabs and Key Lime pie stole the show, other items we tried were just ok. My group started off with spiced shrimp, which were cooked well, but had zero spice (thankfully they have old bay on the table). I started with the Bay Crab soup, which after I doused with enough old bay and Tabasco to kill a man, had some taste. Most disappointing about Quarterdeck was what was not on their menu. No raw oysters, no steamers, no mussels and no corn on the cob. Yet they did have Chicken fingers, hot dogs, pizza and grilled sausage sandwiches. It seems to me that Quarterdeck is not sure what it is…is it a local dive bar that also serves Crabs or is it a crab house, that doesn't have many of the crab house staples?

Still if you are looking to get away for a night to a place where you can sit outside with friends and enjoy some crabs, beer and an amazing key lime pie, then Quarterdeck will hit the spot. If you are looking for a true crab house experience, I am sorry to say that you will have to jump in your car and head towards the Bay.

Quarterdeck is located at 1200 Fort Myer Drive Arlington , VA 22209

Quarterdeck Restaurant on Urbanspoon