Saturday, September 18, 2010

Four Sisters

Sietsema always raves about Four Sisters, so the foodie gals we met at the Artisa Kitchen dinner and I decided to see what the fuss was all about. I've been to Vietnam--I had a killer 30 cent banh mi sandwich, but I wasn't blown away by anything else...and we even made a point to avoid the tourist places!

My verdict -- don't bother going to Vietnam. Because Four Sisters is SO FREAKING GOOD, not to mention much closer (and honestly, the food is not *that* much more expensive).

To start, we ordered three apps. Shrimp toast looked yummy, but was way too greasy. Although I did respect the fact that they used that egg-yolk-and-olive-oil mayo that I had on a banh mi a few weeks before.

The summer rolls were a total bust. I've sadly had better rolls from the Teeter. These were pretty much all rice noodles and tasteless, and I thought the peanut sauce was a bit off.

But the baby clam salad ROCKED MY WORLD. It's a strange dish, but Sietsema recommended it, so we took a chance. The clams were tender, sweet-salty, and amazing, particularly when scooped up with a shard of giant black sesame rice cracker (here modeled by the lovely Kelli!). I could have eaten the entire dish by myself, but managed to restrain myself enough that the other ladies were also able partake. I think I might have had to sit on my hands though!

We went family-style for the entrees: caramel fish, pork with rice vermicelli and spring rolls, black pepper beef, shrimp with rice crepes, and chinese broccoli. Sorry some of the pictures are blurry...the girls were anxious to dig in so I was trying to be quick! This was WAY better than your standard Asian take-out. By a million gazillion miles. I was amazed by how much fish we got in that little clay pot and how tender it was. I thought it was a bit heavy on the fish sauce, but with rice to mellow it out a bit, it was perfection. The pork was out of this world. Thinly sliced and delicious over the vermicelli...even the deep-fried spring rolls were bursting with ground pork, with little filler. Yum-o.

The beef, which was recommended to us by the waitress, was also awesome. A little burny on the edges (which I love!), and so flavorful. It didn't even need the lime dipping sauce that came with it. The shrimp dish was not bad, but didn't hold a candle to the other three. The shrimp themselves were a little boring, although the crepes were pretty good with a bit of fish sauce poured on top. The broccoli was okay, but I thought a little undercooked and bitter. Pat said the leftovers of the broccoli were great, which leads me to believe it just needed to be cooked a bit more.

Yes, Four Sisters is everything we hoped it would be. And although we ate like queens, we paid less than $30 a piece! I will note that I was glad we ate outside...when passing through the interior to get out, I found the overwhelming smell of fish sauce to be a bit off-putting. (portions x-posted to

Dinner tonight: Summer Ragout of White Beans, Tomato, and Sweet Onion

Okay, okay, sorry I have been remiss in posting...I've been busy and lazy, so now I'm super far behind! This was actually dinner Monday night, but whatevs.

I thought I'd go out on a limb and try to cook something *other* than a Cooking Light or Food and Wine recipe, so Monday I made a summer ragout from the WashPo food section. It looked so yummy in the picture, and with only 180 calories per serving, I couldn't resist!

The results were...okay. Fine for me to eat, but I would not have served it to anyone. The fresh basil added a lot to the dish, but overall it was just kind of, meh. However, I can't necessarily blame the recipe, because I cheated A LOT. Instead of peeling, seeding, and dicing tomatoes, I just bought a can of diced tomatoes. And I am WAY too lazy to cook beans, so I bought canned cannellini beans instead. So. Maybe this is where the recipe fell flat. Although I cannot say for sure, because in my experience, tomatoes and beans in the can are close enough that it shouldn't have made a huge difference. I was also a bit disappointed with the volume I got from 1 1/3 servings (=240 calories), although it did leave me feeling un-hungry.

Those of you with a ton of free time on your hands (HA.)--I'd love to hear how this turns out sans cheating...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Evo Bistro

We had a Groupon that was expiring soon, so this past Saturday we made the trek out to McLean to dine at Evo Bistro. I had only been once before, with a large group, but had a good enough experience that I wanted Pat to have a chance to try it as well!

For starters, they have *significantly* expanded the size of the restaurant from last year...I think there are about twice as many tables now, and a lot more space. Which turns out to be a very good thing from a service perspective. My biggest peeve the last time I went was that my water glass was always empty, which I attributed to the tables being so cramped that the ewer simply could never access my glass! Problem solved.

We ordered: Piquillos Rellenos (Stuffed sweet Spanish peppers with mild mushrooms & goat cheese, pepper coulis), Buttifara (grilled Italian sausage with cannelloni bean stew), a sea bass special that came with chorizo, the Evo Crepe (Spinach infused crepe stuffed with all lump jumbo crabmeat), and the Escargot. I think. To be honest, we had been to a wine tasting that afternoon that ended up being much more epic that we had anticipated, so...Pat, correct me if I missed something or made something up! (hee) Most were okay, but did not blow us away. The rellenos were heavy on the goat cheese, the others were fine, but uninspired. The fish in the special was a tiny bit overcooked, and the chorizo did nothing for the dish. Way too salty, and took away from the delicate fish flavors.

But the escargot. OH, that escargot. I love me some snails, but these were by far and away the best escargot I had ever had. They were so good in fact that, much to Pat's chagrin, I told the diners at neighboring tables that they should order them, and insisted the waitress have some at closing as well. They were seriously that good. We managed to take a picture before I inhaled the last morsel, but as you can see, I'm looming in the background, ready to pounce. I would seriously go back for this dish alone.

For dessert, we had this pyramid-shaped chocolate cakey-thing with a hazelnut marzipan center, coated in chocolate. Generous portion, decently good.

So. Mixed reviews. Pretty good for suburbs dining, and better than some small plates restos I've been to in the city, but not top 5 meals. With the exception of my little mollusk friends...(portions x-posted to

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Unhealthy, but creative, foodage

Remember the twinkiemisu? On Friday, my boss, Bill, decided to continue the Twinkie cookbook experimentation by making twinkie-henge and pigs in a twinkie. I could not, in good conscience, agree to post these because twinkies have *27* ingredients, the first four of which are enriched flour, corn syrup, sugar, and HFCS. However, I did agree to give him a shout out, because these were impressive compositions in their own right. But perhaps more appropriate for "This is Why You're Fat"?

Either way, shout out to Bill, twinkie chef extraordinaire!

Bamian Afghan

Friday night I picked up take-out from Bamian Afghan, in Bailey's Crossroads, for our usual Friday night take-out-and-a-bottle-of-wine tradition. This was the third time I've eaten here and even the brief encounter I had with the staff to pick up and pay was pleasant. They are SO nice there!

We ordered: bouranee baunjaun to start -- a stir-fried eggplant dish, topped with yogurt, which came with Afghan bread. This was pretty yummy, though a bit tart. The Afghan bread (which also came with my entree) portion was *very* generous: two gigantic ovals of wheat flatbread probably the length of my fingertips to my elbow! The bread was like wheat pizza dough, albeit a bit dry. (Though I would take this over greasy any day...)

Our entrees, which sounded different on the menu, were remarkably similar. I ordered the kabob murgh, which came as 8 hunks of beautifully browned chicken (although, again, slightly dry), along with a container of some sort of green "salsa" and a salad of diced cucumbers and tomatoes. To my surprise, since the dish came with bread, it was also served over their awesome cardamom-scented brown Jasmine rice. Not sure if this was a mistake or not, but trust me, I wasn't complaining. That rice is SO freaking good. Seriously, I think I had dreams about it that nice. Good dreams.

To round out the meal I also ordered the "two skewers of broiled vegetables." At $3.50, this was the only real disappointment from Bamian. It was totally stingy--two slices of green pepper, two quarters of white onion, and two quarters of tomato. Not impressive, and definitely not $3.50's worth of food. As Pat said, "this is pure profit." Pat ordered the Palau kabob with chicken, which was essentially the exact same thing as mine, but minus the bread and plus a portion of tomato-based meat sauce, with some hunks of lamb.

It took quite a bit of will power to not gorge on my entree in its entirety, but I managed to save enough for lunch on Monday. Which means I will be having cardamom-scented dreams again! (portions x-posted to

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dinner tonight: Snow Crab Legs, Green Bean Salad with Mustard Crema, and Wheat Rolls

Snow crab legs were on super sale and of "very limited" supply at the Teeter, so of course I had to pick some up for dinner! Plus, it seemed like an appropriate end-of-summer dish as the oppressive DC heat finally begins to let up.

A common dipping sauce for crab involves mustard, and green beans are also a classic summer veg, so I thought Green Bean Salad with Mustard Crema would be a good accompaniment. They were...okay. For such a simple sounding recipe, it actually took forever to make. I blame having to trim 2 lbs of beans (I made 2/3 the recipe, and also did not include the almonds) and then wait for a massive pot of water capable of holding said beans to come to a boil. Although not bad, I think the crema could have used more mustard flavor, and perhaps a tad more salt. I also think the sauce was a bit heavy-handed...I would use half as much next time, and maybe water it down a little. Pat just didn't like the idea of mustard and green beans together. I will say, this dish is much better room temperature than cold (one of the recommended ways of serving)...cold, they're pretty bland.

We also had wheat rolls to sop up the crema. Usually, I buy these fantastic all natural Alexia dinner rolls from the freezer section, but this time they only had ciabatta rolls. So I bought HT bakery "take and bake" rolls instead and, well, baked them. Not bad, although not as crusty on the outside/squishy on the inside as their Alexia brethren. Bring back the Alexia, HT!!

For dessert, we split our first ever Hello Cupcake cupcake -- peanut butter chocolate. Pretty good, with generous (and SO delicious) icing. The cupcake could have been a little more chocolatey, but all in all, I would say it's a pretty close second to the G-town...which I now hear has bouncers and even longer lines, so we'll see how long it is before I return. Anyway, I still have three more Hello's in the freezer!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


This Labor Day, Vanessa and I lunched at Raku, in Dupont Circle. Thankfully, unlike many DC area restaurants, it was actually open for the holiday. Overall, pretty decent. I would not consider it a dining destination, but the food was solid and enjoyably creative. Not bad for a dinner out with friends, perhaps.

We ordered: summer rolls, spicy green beans, the "Seoul" train roll (badum-chung!), and Double Salmon roll. The menu was pretty big, so we had many options to choose from!
Although we ordered the summer rolls with our drinks and they are considered an app, the green beans (which are a side) came out first. This was weird, but we were hungry so we were not all that put off. The green beans, although a bit greasy, were delish. Actually pretty similar to the Sichaun-style green beans I once made from a Sunset recipe online. (Yes, they are half-eaten in this picture. I forgot!! Again!!!)

Next came the summer rolls. I would have liked a bit more shrimp and fewer rice noodles, but again, pretty good! The wrapper was nice and moist, and the sauces were awesome--a duo of chunky peanut sauce and kaffir lime sauce. Which don't necessary seem to me like they would go together, but were fantastic...I might have scraped up the leftovers with a chopstick (because licking the plate, I decided, was a bit uncouth for a lunch date!).

Our sushi rolls were equally interesting. I'm not sure I was a huge fan of the double salmon (pictured on right)...the cooked salmon tasted a little fishy and kind of weird as sushi. The Korean-inspired Seoul train roll (pictured on left) was very yummy though. The kimchi, although also weird, was weird in a good way that the salmon was not. Would definitely order that again. Sorry for the blurry photo...I'm a terrible photographer.

Besides the weird side-coming-out-before-appetizer thing, service was decent and food came fast. Plus, we ended up staying and talking for like an hour after we had paid, and no one kicked us out or gave us dirty looks. Overall, nothing mind-blowing but not a bit disappointing. If someone suggested Raku again, I certainly wouldn't veto it. (portions x-posted to

Monday, September 6, 2010

As if football weren't great enough on its own

I love football. I love the time of year, shouting at the TV/in the stands, making up clever names for players I hate, and having an excuse to drink beer and eat poorly all day. Which of course means I also love TAILGATING!

We welcomed the start of another college football season this year in Charlottesville with some of Pat's friends (thanks to Tracy and Josh for being such great hosts!). To make it look like we weren't entirely freeloading, I contributed to the tailgate a Roasted Corn, Black Bean, and Mango Salad and Easy Lemon Squares. This also meant there were at least two low calorie, healthy options to help offset our gluttony.

Together, they took 2ish hours to make. I did most of the prep the night before, but waited to add the lime juice and salt to the salad until the very end, because I didn't want the acid and salt to make it mushy and tasteless. Modifications to the salad: no red bell pepper, because I'm still trying to get over the last time I bought one and paid *$4* for it. This is criminal I think. I also did not serve it over lettuce, because that seemed unnecessary. And used slightly less lime juice because I find that in general Cooking Light's recipes are a little heavy on lemon/lime juice. For the lemon squares I used egg beaters in place of two of the eggs, because that was what I had on hand. I also didn't do the powdered sugar step because that seemed stupid.

Both recipes were AWESOME. Seriously, I didn't try the salad until we got to the tailgate, and once we did, I might have been tooting my own horn a little. But everyone else seemed to really, really enjoy it as well. It was consumed both with scoop tortilla chips and as a salad; I preferred the former, Pat the latter. He thought the salad could have used a bit more lime. So I guess I made the wrong call on that one.

Not many lemon squares were eaten because, I learned the next day, most people didn't know what they were. I don't know about you, but my first reaction to food who's identity I don't know is to taste it, not avoid it. But that is why I have a food blog and they do not, I suppose! In any event, Pat and I each had one, and they were faboo. Super lemony, and the crust was not at all dry and crumbly like some of the reviewers on the cooking light website suggest. I think they did something wrong! :) A few more were consumed the next morning at breakfast, and we found a good home for the remainder, so no harm done.

These are both great recipes that I HIGHLY recommend. Crowd pleasers, to be sure. And, despite my disdain for repeating recipes, the salad may just become a potluck staple.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dinner tonight: Red tomato chutney, this time with salmon!

Remember the tilapia with red tomato chutney? And how we thought it might go better with salmon? I had a ton of chutney left, and it's only good for a few months, so today we had it with wild Alaskan salmon, Israeli couscous, and broiled yellow squash. We were right. The salmon flavor and consistency stood up really well to the chutney, and it was fun with the couscous. Plus, doesn't the plate look pretty? :)

So. If you make the chutney, I highly recommend with salmon. Pat cleaned his plate and raved, so I think he would recommend this as well. We still have some chutney left, so there may be a gourmet grilled cheese post in the future...