Thursday, May 30, 2013

THE HAMILTON – Ready to get your boogie on?

 Is it a bar, a restaurant or concert venue?  Surprise its all three and even more.  Its motto should be eat, drink and be happy because after walking in the front door and taking a seat that was just what I was “happy”.  No drinks to fill my belly yet just the warm inviting atmosphere.  The music venue has something for everyone from the amazing Paul Kelly to the Smithereens. Or better yet how about Grammy Award-winning drummer, composer and bandleader, Terri Lyne Carrington she will be spotlighting the venue on June 8, 2013.  June 24, 2013 gives way to Billy Cox Band of Gypsys Experience Featuring the original bassist of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  You must remember who Jimi Hendrix was even if you were born yesterday.  This place has Sunday gospel brunch a fabulous event to indulge in food and music so start tapping your feet to the rhythm. 

I had passed by the Hamilton many times while in DC but I always thought I was underdressed.  The inside has beautiful wood and looks like a four star hotel definitely a place of yesteryear.  Once I walked in I noticed that there were young couples dressed in jeans and older couples dressed like a night at the opera.  It was interesting array of individuals and yet I did not know what exactly to make of it.  I was still estimating the price of the meal in my head and wondering if it was worth it.  I had already spent my allowance at the Palena a restaurant owned by Whitehouse Chefs so I did not have much change to spend on another meal.  So with interoperation I took a seat in the middle of a very grand and elegant hall.  Boy was I wrong!  This place had such an ecliptic group that it’s menu followed suit.  It not only served high class seafood but burgers, turkey melts, pasta and salads.  The lesson I learned never judge a book by its cover.  Burgers and sandwiches were modestly priced compared to what I am use to the average price was $11.00 yes I have had that $20.00 burger – never again!

So sit down and start with the Jumbo Soft Shell Crab it will make you wanting more.  It is served with spicy Asian baby greens, yuzu vinaigrette and spring garlic aioli the combination may seem a little odd at first but it totally works.  The first bite does not kick in till after so be causation the heat will eventually hit your taste buds and it is totally worth drinking all the extra water.  I myself do not like to eat something that looks like a tarantula but man it was done right.  Fried crispy and tender the crab was so sweet mixed with the spice that I just could not stop stuffing my face.   This place is also known for its District Wings with mumbo sauce but experiment a little even I tried something new.  There are many starters to choose from and price was reasonable.  The Soft Shell Crab was only $11.00 and the Crab Bisque was only $8.00.  So live a little.
The main course I stated way from my normal chicken and pasta and indulged in the Alaska Halibut.  It was served over a bed of pee wee potatoes, asparagus, artichokes and lemon caper relish yes I used the bread as a spoon for every drip of the sauce.  I was in heaven.  The Cape Cod Day Scallops are a sure bet also as they are perfectly seared.  The scallops are served with spring peas and shoots, pioppini mushrooms, scallions, and house smoked bacon lardoons.   I do not know why on Hell’s Kitchen it is so hard to get the scallops right, 3 minutes on each side people in a hot pan. That is all it takes to sear a scallop that even I can do it correctly.  Maybe I should try out for Hell’s Kitchen I just have one issue I do not like to be yelled at.   But I will admit when I was in London even when the Brits are rude they still come off nice, you got to love it.  I know I did.

Another thing I loved was the desserts at the Hamilton totally high calorie content but as I always say if it’s worth the calories “give me”.  The Hamilton is known for its Chocolate St. Louis Gooey Cake made with chewy warm moist chocolate cake, warm chocolate topping, a vanilla ice cream ball smothered in more chocolate and a chocolate ganache.  It was so rich I could only have a few bite but again that’s because I had two desserts!  Come on people if your going to do it to it right.  For my encore I had Salted Caramel Cheesecake a New York style salted caramel swirl cheese cake topped with cashew caramel popcorn and caramel sauce and you want to know why I came back from DC 10 pounds heavier. I blame the food and cupcakes!
Located at 600 14th Street NW, Washington DC near Metro Center this place a sure fire winner.  I give it Four Forks Up for food, service, atmosphere and pricing.  There was not anything I could say negative about the Hamilton and trust me there are many places that at least have one flaw but this place not yet from what I can see.  So the next time you are in DC give it shot you wouldn’t be sorry.  I do recommend a reservation especially if a good band is playing that night. 


Thursday, May 23, 2013

BEN’S CHILI BOWL – If President Obama can eat here so can I.

Hot dogs, chili and fries enough to give anyone heart burn but definitely worth the burn.  I usually say that phrase when working out but seriously its good stuff.  This is a landmark.  Situated in the heart of the University district this place has seen the changing of the guard.  From its roots in 1958 it was the center of the Civil Rights Movement.  U Street was known as the Black Broadway.  One of DC’s first Black Police Detectives converted this old theater into a pool hall.  In 1958 Ben and Virginia Ali changed it into a little mom and pop restaurant serving smokies. 

Back in its day you would not be surprised to be sitting next to Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald.  Since that time other greats in history have graced its door including Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Cosby, Red Fox and President Obama.  So what do they know that the rest of us do not?  That not only is this little whole in the wall history itself it serves up a mean smoky. 

During the turbulent time of the 1960’s leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assignation in 1968 Ben’s Chili Bowl was the only establishment allowed to stay open after curfew during the riots.  It provided the needed shelter and warmth for firefighters, activists and public servants.

Looking from the outside this place looks “chancy” at best.  Even walking through the front door might give you second thoughts to run for the door but I promise you it is a ray of sunshine. 

Ben’s is known for its famous Original Chili Half-Smoke which has now been renamed to Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half Smoke.  As with the times Ben’s menu has changed to include Turkey Burgers, Veggie Dogs and Vegetarian Chili.  I will say the vegetarian chili does have a kick to it.  There is no disguising the flavor. 

This place takes cash only but they do have an ATM machine for your convenience.  Usually you can expect up to a 30 minute wait but don’t be dismayed because everyone waits for Ben’s.  This place is deceiving as there is whole another room hidden behind the front of the house.  If your looking for white linens and cloth napkins this is not the place but common on if the President can stuff his mouth with a chili dog can’t you?  The Turkey Dogs are huge and the chili no matter with or without meat is scrumptious expealidious as Mary Poppins would say.

This place is 3.5 Forks Up.  The atmosphere is beyond divvy, friendly service, and tasty dogs ok I admit I LOVED the chili.  It’s also very clean.  For dessert I recommend you walk three blocks to Love Cakes more about that later.

213 U Street NW, Washington District of Columbia 20009-444.  Open Monday thru Thursday 6:00 am – 2:00 am; Friday and Saturday till 4am and Sunday 11am – 12pm.  No breakfast on Sunday but please enjoy it the rest of the week.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

MITSITAM CAFÉ - Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.

Food, fun and culture at the Mitsitam Café you can get it all.  Admission to the museum is free like all of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C.  My taxi cab driver turned me on to this café. Who would have thought that that a museum actually has decent food?  Not me so I was skeptical when he told me about it.  I went in with the lowest expectations as possible and was overwhelmed by the menu selections. 

Where else can you get snake, goat stew, bison burgers or how about red bean and alligator soup?  No where that I know of.  I strongly recommend that come before 12pm because the rush crowd even on Sunday can send your head spinning.  Given the fact that Georgetown University had its graduation at the National Mall that did not deter me as I believed that the parents would be taking their graduates to a fine dining establishment to get their party on.  I was so mistaken as the graduates took their parents to the Mitsitam Café for the experience of their life time.  Lucky for me I anticipated the rush and arrived Sunday at 11:30am buy the time I sat down the place was packed.  I was surrounded by proud parents and a sea of colors (the graduation colors of each degree).  The atmosphere was one of exhilaration.

But alas I digress; I should be talking about the menu and food.  I promise you that if these graduates knew anything it was definitely about food.

There are four stations of different tastes.  At The Great Plains you can experience Buffalo Chili, Chipotle Chicken Taco, or the Indian Taco which is buffalo chili on fry bread.   How about the Ground Buffalo or Duck Burger made with roasted pepper dijonaise, smoked tomato and aged cheddar cheese.  The burgers are moist not dry and pack so much flavor that you do not need any condiments and frankly you should be shunned if you do so.

If Buffalo is not to your liking then you can experience the Northern Woodlands.  You have your choice of Spring Corn and Quahog Clam Soup or Red Bean and Alligator Soup.  The Wild Rice and Watercress Salad became my addiction.  As the server was putting it on my plating I kept on saying “please sir may I have some more?”  I think he finally was tired of my rendition of Pink Floyd that he just gave in and piled it mile high.  Oh well, more for me.   The Hominy and Grilled Asparagus Salad I would not order again as it lacked flavor.  That made me sad as I love hominy.  So do not waste the calories and order it there is so much better sides to indulge in for instance the Maple Pudding is sweet and reminded me of home, Vancouver.  Rather what I love to call home in my reality.  It was sweet and moist and you must give it a nibble if only for the taste that takes me back home.

Now we move on to South America.  Pastel de Cobra sounds like rattlesnake but its not it is Stewed Goat Pie, thick and rich.  Perhaps chicken is more your stile then try the Pollo Tamal, Salsa de Man simply put chicken tamal with peanut sauce.  The peanut sauce is light and not to heavy to overwhelm the flavor of the chicken.  I highly recommend the Aji De Garbanzo which is sautéed garbanzo beans with ali peppers.  Warning eat slowly because the heat of the pepper will be your after taste but it is so good that you cannot stop shoveling it into your mouth.  The Sautéed Green beans with Pork was packed with flavor.

Now continue straight to Northwest Coast where fish is the king.  Start with an appetizer such as Macadamia Sunfish Poke and follow that with Cedar Plank Wild Salmon served with grilled corn and cherry tapenada.  The fish is not fishy tasting which again was surprising as this is a cafeteria but refuses to serve typical cafeteria food.

One more territory to cover and that is Mesoamerica a tex-mex flavor.  The main dishes consist of tacos, but I recommend the Rojo Yucca Cake made with black bean, tomato salsa and cilantro cream. Here you can indulge in nachos served with salsa, guacamole or carne asada. 

Each territory has a delectable dessert but I headed straight to the dessert try and tried Banana Cake topped with a light cream cheese frosting.  Every bite had a fresh banana flavor.  Do not be fooled by the lightness and texture this dessert expands in your tummy so tread lightly.

This Café deserves Four Forks Up for its innovation.  Your view will be a waterfall outside the floor to ceiling to windows.  However, I must warn you like any cafeteria your eyes can be bigger than your stomach and that includes the price.  It is quite pricey once you start exploring each area.  There are specials, so be aware of them read the signs above each section.  For example you can get a main entrée with 2 sides.  I recommend ordering a special.  I definitely would go back next time I am in DC and that will be shortly.  After lunch feel free to explore the exhibits you will learn something and the art will take your breath away.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

LUNA GRILL – Cheap healthy eats

Luna Grill looks like any other fast food establishment in Lake Forest however its claim to fame is healthy food a price you can afford.  These days anything that is healthy comes at the cost of your wallet.  For good food that does not pack on the pounds you can spend about $20 per person but that is not the case a Luna Grill.

The food is cooked to order and the menu consists of healthy filling salads to salmon, lamb and chicken.  Start with spicy hummus served with pita bread or kick it up a notch and try the Spinach Pie which consists of spinach, feta cheese wrapped in light phyllo dough.

If you want to eat healthy try a salad as your entrée they are filling and delicious.  You have a choice between the typical Greek Salad, Apple Walnut, Luna Salad or my favorite Mediterranean Chicken Salad.  It is made with Israeli couscous which was so firm and delectable I used my pita bread to wipe up the scraps.  The house made vinaigrette was to die for and yes I did drown my salad with it. So what my tummy was happy.  My problem is that I enjoy the salads so much I keep ordering them in fact I think I will be hitting Luna Grill for lunch today.  My mouth is already watering.

For something meatier try the Gryros Plate, Lamb Kabob or Cornish Hen on the Bone.   These dishes come with fresh green salad, basmati rice, pita bread, cucumber yogurt dip, carrots or grilled tomato garnish.  The kabobs are quite popular.  All the entrée’s are two meals in one so if you’re not that hungry you just might want to share.  If you are calorie conscious all calories are on the menu but indulge, you only live once and this is the place to indulge.

You order at the counter and they bring the food to your table.  There is a nice patio outside if you want to enjoy the California sun.  Once you walk in the door the aroma hits you and there are no second thoughts of leaving. 

Entrée prices run from $9.50 to $13.00 but as I said it includes everything.  You are actually getting 2 meals for the price of one.  They also serve al la carte, wraps and kids meals.  This place is great for lunch but if you want a quick healthy dinner you cannot go wrong.  To date there are only 2 restaurants in Orange County,  Lake Forest and the Spectrum in Irvine and 7 in San Diego County.  I recommend that you take the drive and stop by before everyone else discovers this little gem. 

This place is 3 ½ Forks Up.  The price is reasonable and the food is spectacular for semi-fast food.  Perfect place for lunch on a hot sunny day.

23625 El Toro Road, Suite A
Lake Forest, CA 92630
Phone 949-770-5862

Monday, May 6, 2013

CAFÉ MATINEE – Lebanese cuisine at its best.

Do not drive by this place without stopping in to try the delicious exotic foods.  First impression is that it is a whole in the wall tucked in a run down strip mall that needs a little revamping to bring it up to par with the other strip malls in the area.  However, DO NOT let that dissuade you.  This place is diamond in the rough.

For anyone who has never had Lebanese food you are in for a treat.  The staple ingredient is garlic and olive oil.  Mix that combination with fresh herbs and you have something special.  Most people believe all Mediterranean cuisines are the same and frequently interchange Lebanese food with Greek food.  The national Lebanese dish is Kibbeh, an emulsified paste of the freshest lamb and bulgur wheat.  Every meal is eaten with bread seasoned with Zahtar which is combination of thyme and sumac. 

When you first take a peek at the menu you might think it is expensive but it is not for all the food you receive.  Each meal comes with a huge salad, pita bread, homemade olives and pickled turnips.  But the star of the meal is the hummus pay the extra $2.99 you will not be disappointed it.  The hummus is homemade smooth and creamy.  Through all my travels through Europe including Turkey I have never had this texture of hummus before.  It actually has a buttery taste.  It was by far the best hummus I have ever tasted throughout my travels.  I highly recommend it to accompany any meal at Café Matinee.  I tried to buy a bucket of it to take home but the waiter turned down my request. Darn it!

For an appetizer I recommend Cheese Pie Zantar.  It is fresh baked bread topped with Lebanese cheese, zesty vegetarian mixture, and oregano and sesame oil.  It is my new addiction I took another home to indulge in while watching a movie. 

If you want something more hearty and meaty then the Kebbeh Balls are for you.  They are made with ground beef and cracked wheat ball stuffed with lamb, ground onions and pine nuts.  Simply delightful.  However, as with every good Lebanese restaurant they serve the traditional Stuffed Grape Leaves – vegetarian style.

Entrée’s consist of a variety of dishes including Chicken Shawarma, Filet Mignon, Lamb  Kabob and Falafel.  There are daily specials which are quite inexpensive.  The specials are around $10.99 and include everything but hummus.  I came specifically to try the Chicken Shawarma.  A good chicken shawarma is moist and flavorful which honestly is hard to do.  Most chicken shawarmas turn out excessively dry and just tasteless.  I was excited to discover that this was not the case. It was so moist and flavorful I thought I died and went to heaven.

The service is outstanding.  This is a little mom and pop shop so attention to customer service and quality of food is superior. I do not think there is anything that Chef Ramsay could complain about at this top notch establishment.  As we are running out of these gems I strongly recommend that everyone take a drive to Lake Forest and give this restaurant a shot.  It is well worth the mileage and your tummy will be happy.  This diamond is worth 4 Forks Up for price, service and excellent food. 

  23532 El Toro Road, Lake Forest, CA 92630