Flamenco and Tapas at La Tasca

La Tasca is a prime spot in Clarendon for tapas and sangria after a long work week. Its Arlington location is one of five in the DC Metro area.

After making the reservations on OpenTable , two friends and I were excited to indulge in the restaurant that presents itself as an authentic Spanish experience. The atmosphere did not disappoint. When we arrived, we were ushered up the large wrought iron staircase to the top of the two-level establishment that’s decorated in rich shades of gold, red, and green.

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The upstairs bar at La Tasca in Clarendon

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Concentrated Indian flavors require a palate cleanser

When I go out to eat at an Indian restaurant, I end up feeling very full and slightly amnesiac. There was probably a saag paneer here, a chicken dish there and maybe, just maybe, chai. I noticed that people might disagree with my experiences since this Slate journalist loves saag paneer.

Small plates are becoming more popular in Indian cuisine, including in New York City’s Little India with Graffiti (Thanks for the pointer, Eileen!). D.C. is a part of the bandwagon, too. I was worried that the small plates would bring similar flavors to my previous experiences, but the small plates couldn’t have been more different. That’s a good thing. I would recommend drinking tea to wash it all down, though. The flavors are really strong.

Indique Heights

The small plates option is available from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m., every day of the week. I went there on a recent Saturday afternoon, and I found the place devoid of clientele. Hostess Jillian Justice said that the lack of patrons was because later times and weekdays invite larger crowds.

The Executive Chef, Silvaraman Balamurugan, was my bartender that afternoon, so I asked him about the pairings I could combine with the dishes I ordered. He suggested a tamarind margarita because it’s hot and sweet and would match the tamarind flavor in the dishes I ordered. He also suggested a drink called hot passion, which features jalapeño and passion fruit flavors.

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American food with a twist

EatBar is one of the bright spots in Clarendon for small plates. Voted one of the Best Bars of 2013, EatBar offers up modern small plates without a big price tag.

The seat-yourself restaurant and bar has an atmosphere that’s cozy and candlelit, but noisy enough that you don’t feel like you have to whisper.  The gastropub lists wine and beer options drawn on chalkboards. The cushioned booths will make you feel comfortable hanging around a while and probably ordering more food until you’re in a food coma.

EatBar features contemporary American food with a few twists that keep the food interesting.

Classic American foods get upgrades with the use of different spices and sauces from different cultures. Like the chicken wings in Korean BBQ or chili lime sauce. My group gotthe Korean BBQ, and we ate everyone single morsel.

 

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The Cajun Experience

cajun0Nestled in the heart of Old Town Leesburg, “The Cajun Experience” is a treat for those looking for authentic Cajun food.

As I entered the restaurant with a friend on a Saturday afternoon, my first impression was of a clean but cluttered small space filled with seafood aroma. Bustling with customers, the place did not have an open floor plan feel that most restaurants have.

Originally from Louisiana, Bryan Crosswhite launched this restaurant about 5 years ago as there were no Cajun restaurants in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. A conversation with him revealed that the restaurant is actually a converted old house built in the 1700s.

“I felt like it had a lot of culture, especially of where I am from, Lafayette. It looks a lot like an old Cajun house“, said Crosswhite.

Inside the foyer, we were greeted by a friendly hostess who escorted us to an empty table in the packed restaurant. After reviewing the menu, we ordered the Lagniappe Special, which consisted of 5 small plates of restaurant favorites for a total of $35. As both of us do not consume alcohol, we ordered sodas.

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What to look for when navigating some of D.C.’s famous spots

What experiences can people expect when eating out at small plates restaurants? Knowing what to look for when reading the menu is a start. This is not your typical listing of appetizers, entrées and desserts. Let’s look at some of the famous ones, shall we?

Jaleo

If you’ve lived in the D.C. Metro area for a while, then you have most likely heard about José Andrés showcasing tapas in his restaurant Jaleo.

This restaurant has multiple branches, including one in Las Vegas. The original is in D.C.’s Penn Quarter, so I think that’s the most relevant menu to look at here.

Most categories are listed in Spanish without any English translations, but the translated parts make it possible to understand. For example, “Verduras” emphasizes vegetables. However, the section “Conos, latas y más” can be confusing, even when the reader is pretty sure the title translates into “Cones, canned foods and more.”

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Latin-Asian Fusion at Zengo

Zengo, meaning give and take in Japanese, is the perfect name for the restaurant located next to the metro station in Gallery Place/Chinatown.

Chef-owner Richard Sandoval owns five popular restaurants in D.C., including my favorite El Centro D.F., so my expectations for Zengo were pretty high. It did not disappoint.

Thai-chicken empanadas

Thai-chicken empanadas

While there are dinner entrée options, the bulk of the menu showcases small plate options that are meant for sharing. The culinary concept of Zengo merges Latin and Asian cuisine in some unexpected way, but still includes a few staples you’d likely associate with Latin or Asian food – whatever your preference. I like them both, so I was in for a treat.

The most interesting thing about the menu at Zengo is that it changes. Every few months the culinary team gets together and chooses two different countries, one Latin and one Asian, and mixes together their flavors and customary dishes for a totally unique small plate experience. During my visit, the test kitchen had produced a profile of Japan and Mexico. Some of the dishes included Thai-chicken empanadas and teriyaki pork belly gorditas sliders with Oaxaca cheese.

At first, I was unsure if sushi and tacos would make a good combination but decided to try it anyway.

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Twisted Vines Bottleshop & Bistro

This sophisticated wine bar serves up a heaping of tasty small plates, perfectly paired with a vast selection of libations. Opened in 2010 by husband-and-wife team Josh and Sybil Robinson, Twisted Vines offers small plates as dinner options and 100 plus wines from Spain, Uruguay and Australia, to name a few. If the Zagat rating isn’t enough to pique your interest, consider the tasty tidbits on the menu. I ordered the $6 Twisted Trio, which comes with roasted olives, Marcona almonds, and a sweet and zesty cranberry peanut mix.

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The Twisted Trio
Photo by Paulina Kosturos

When I asked the waiter, Eduardo, or self-dubbed “very handsome waiter,” what to pair with the trio, he responded by giving me a brief history of wine pairings. According to Eduardo, the French wanted to make more money on selling wines. So they began insisting that only certain foods be paired with certain wines.

And so the story goes, food and wine pairings were born.

While this remains debatable (Read up on the origins of food pairings here), the trio serves as the perfectly salty snack for the red wine drinker. According to Eduardo, a full to medium-bodied wine brings out the intense flavors of the food, making for a bolder taste.

“It’s like drinking beer and scotch,” he said.

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