Monday, January 23, 2012

A & J Authentic Chinese ~ Rockville, MD

If you have not already taken notice of a trend in the restaurants I often frequent, I am a lover of all Asian cuisine. The best thing about living in the DC metro area is all the wonderful options we have available to us. In reality, we take it for granted. Never did I realize this more than when I was visiting my in laws in blue collar town, and they were happy they had found one decent Chinese, Mexican, and Afghani restaurant. Here in DC, the options are endless.

I had been hearing whispers of this authentic Chinese dim sum joint with a very unusual name. A & J’s is located in Rockville and Annandale. Very small with spartan décor, this is a place for hard core enthusiasts of real Chinese cuisine. I went there with the explicit plan of trying a multitude of dishes, which here is easy to do since they are small plates at inexpensive prices. Dim sum is like Spanish tapas.

My choices were thus:  
  • Wonton soup Shanghai Style (Ground pork and vegetable wonton)   
  • Chinese style fried pork chop on rice
  • Braised pork on rice with a braised egg
  • Pan-fried pork dumplings/potstickers
  • Steamed pork bun
  • Steamed beef dumpling 
  • Steamed pork hock with special seasonings
  • Cucumber salad in hot garlic sauce
  • Sliced pork ears with hot spiced seasoning

Wow, that was porkerific. Chinese food does center a lot around pork. If you have special dietary needs, such as keeping Kosher, this place would probably not be the most satisfying.

The wonton soup was OK. The wontons themselves were fabulous, the broth was a bit eh. I could not quite tell you what was off about the broth itself. ALL of the dumplings/potsticker/buns were truly amazing. If Chinese dumplings are your thing, then A & J is your new mistress.

The braised pork with braised egg was also yummy. The egg was the most surprising, as I have never had one before. It was brown in color, but do not let this deter you. It tastes like a hard boiled egg, period. I was also thrilled with the pork hock. Subtle nuances of flavor swimming in a well seasoned broth. The meat and skin perfection.

Another surprise was the cucumber salad. This was, in my opinion, the only spicy item on my plate. I did not order this, they simply brought over a serving for me to taste. I have never tried cucumbers this crisp. The sauce was spicy, but fresh with subtle sweet undertones. Their plan to hook me on this item definitely worked.

By far, the only really disappointing item was the pigs ear. I was hoping for chewiness, but they sliced them in a way that the cartlidge was present in every bite, and it was served cold. I am sure it is a perfect example of the dish, it was just not what I expected. 

This is the kind of place you go to to step outside your comfort zone and try new flavors. You will find that once you start stretching your palate, you want to do it again and again until the ordinary no longer feeds your cravings. What fun can be had when that happens….

Contact Information:
1319 Rockville Pike (The location I ate at)
Ste C
Rockville, MD 20852
(301) 251-7878

4316 Markham St
Annandale, VA 22003
(703) 813-8181

A & J on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Huong Viet ~ Falls Curch, VA

Saturday night, decision made, I am off to the mecca of all things vietnamese in good ol Falls Church VA. Visited by individuals like Anthony Bordain of the TV show No Reservations. I have wanted to try a restaurant there for some time. I decided on Huong Viet based on reviews from former patrons.
The first thing that caught my attention was the place was hopping, a grand mixture of Vietnamese and American diners.The next were the many, many, many accolades from local and not so local publications. Awards from Washingtonian magazine each year from 2006-2011. 

All of this pales in comparison to the delicious food of which I am about to partake. I was really excited about this place, so in my typical fashion, I over ordered. To start I ordered the spring rolls (w/ Ground Pork, Crab Meat & Shrimp), and a small bowl of pho (Awesome traditional Vietnamese noodle soup). If you have never tried pho (Fu, like the first part of a very naughty word, see demonstration here) run out right now, well after reading my review, and get some.

 The spring rolls were surprising. Not at all like the Chinese versions I have had. Filled almost exclusively with pork and crabmeat with very little filler. The outside seemed almost battered and fried. Absolutely DELICIOUS. As wonderful as they were, the pho was above and beyond. Sensuously aromatic herbal spicy goodness in a bowl. The noodles were good too, but that broth. It was cold outside, but my tummy was warm and happy.

For the final act I ordered the BÚN THỊT NƯỚNG – Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Pork. This dish demonstrated perfectly the freshness that permiates all Vietnamese food. A simple bowl of plain rice noodle covered with delicously sweet grilled pork. This is served over fresh lettuce and other vegetables. What finishes this dish if the spiced fish sauce you pour over, along with other condiments like siracha sauce for zing. The flavor simple yet complex and fresh. Pleasure personified.

Another thing of note, they are very fast in delivery. This is not European style dining. They must have a fairy godmother in back doing the cooking, cause it was very impressive. This means good things for the mid day work lunch. You can easily get in and out in less than an hour, and be gratefully satisfied.

Another note, no credit cards. Bring cash. They do accept checks, as I found out <blush>, but the ritual of wrting out the check was humiliation enough to swear I will always have cash when I dine here. Yes, I will be back. 

Contact Information
Huong Viet Restaurant
6785 Wilson Blvd
Falls Church , VA 22044
Phone: 703-538-7110

Huong Viet on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 8, 2012

El Manantial ~ Reston, VA

A small cozy European restaurant tucked away in a sleepy shopping center in Reston, VA. A mixture of French, Spanish, and Italian cuisines, it is an undiscovered gem to many in the area. 

I went there for a romantic supper with the hubby, and my 1st thought was how open and inviting the layout was, especially the kitchen. I wanted to just go in, roll my sleeves up, and get to work. Naturally, I quelled this desire.

The walls were painted with scenic Mediterranean landscapes (which I believe were hand painted), the lights were dimmed for the evening’s amorous crowd. From the menu, I was very torn between three seafood items. In my experience, I only find exceptional fish at fine dining establishments, and will only order it there. Fish is a delicate medium. You cannot be heavy handed or inexperienced. It is one of the easiest ingredients to completely destroy.

My perplexing decision tonight was between the Dover sole (Pan fried whole Dover sole, served boneless, served w/ lemon butter & white wine sauce), the barramundi (Australian mild white fish, semi boneless & stuffed w/ crabmeat), and the seafood paella (steamed rice in saffron w/ shrimp, mussels, clams, squid and monkfish).

When I am in this sort of conundrum, I rely on the experts to steer me in the best direction. In this case the expert, our server, was Raoul. Raoul is one of the shining beacons that make fine dining worth the cost. He listened carefully to what I was interested in and provided well thought out and planned advice. “Will you be having the soup?” He asked. “Tonight it is lobster bisque.” That is a vigorous affirmative. With that combination, he recommended the barramundi. Off we go.

Lobster bisque, a creamy flavorful liquid concoction only made better by the crusty French bread endlessly supplied. It was one of those soothing moments like sitting next to a roaring fire on a snowy evening.

Shortly after, the main event arrived. The barramundi was regally displayed and dressed to the nines. As beautiful as it was, it could not compare to the luscious and vibrant flavor. A celebration of light citrus notes with garlic. The flesh of the fish perfectly done, light and delicious. It was accompanied by simple steamed broccoli and some carrots. The fish was the rock star of this dinner, the vegetables were not to distract from that fact.

In conclusion, wonderful food, wonderful staff, enough said.

Contact Information
12050-A North Shore Dr.
Reston, VA 20190
Phone: (703) 742-6466