The Average Lunch

It's a weekday, and last night you were up late and just weren't feeling that turkey and watercress sandwich (or pb&j, pick your poison). No one's cooked in a few days so you're low on leftovers. What are you least likely to regret at the old regulars?

Here are my top choices:

Signature Salad from Cosi
Chicken Guacamole sandwich from Breadline
Aloha Pineapple from Jamba Juice (yum, liquid lunch!)
Buffalo Chicken Sandwich from Old Ebbitt Express
Hot dog from Five Guys
Mac & Cheese and a salad from Au Bon Pain

What are yours? (Cue: You leaving a comment)



"How's your lamb?"

J doesn't usually use such strong (yet favorable) language to describe his meals! Usually a nod and a smile with "it's good" suffices for him. But before we get to the lamb, let's start from the beginning.

Appetizers! J had the cream of cauliflower soup with seafood sausage. When his mostly empty bowl arrived with just the sausage and a floret or two of cauli, he seemed confused. Then, the server poured the very creamy soup out of a teensy teapot, and ta da! Soup. My salad was the Davon Crest Blend, greens with a blackberry vinaigrette, with two blackberries and two goat cheese fritters on the side. The fritters were divine, crunchy on the outside but creamy on the inside--still warm. I wish I could go to a happy hour and just get a basket of those with an ice cold beer. Mmmmm. Are you listening, Chef Chittum? Are you adding that basket to the bar menu?

Our main courses brought J French-cut pine nut crusted lamb with a sweet syrupy glaze, and a cucumber and onion salad on the side. Consider the opener a spoiler alert--he loved it. He then compared it to other things he'd eaten recently, as in, "That pork chop at Evening Star was really good, but this is way better," and also, "My steak? At Buck's? It was good. But this...this is...::eyes roll with pleasure::."

I read that a great thing about Vermilion is that if you are a vegetarian, you aren't confined to side dishes and appetizers. If my dish I hadn't existed, I probably would have went for the chicken, which I'm sure would have been good, but I didn't really feel like chicken. The caramelized gnocchi was a dream of gnocchi, caramelized onions, fresh herbs and olive oil, and oven-dried tomatoes. As a general rule for the past 23 years, I don't even LIKE tomatoes. But I believe that in a dish, every ingredient, every line of sauce is there for a reason, and in that dish it was just fabulous. Best of all, it was nice to have gnocchi without feeling like I needed to be rolled home after. Instead of being in a thick creamy sauce all goopy-like, my gnocchi definitely hit the sautee pan, and overall the dish was inventive, light, and fresh.

J noted that one dessert choice was obvious, because it had the "F" word. No, not that F word you dirty bunch. FIG. The goat's milk cheesecake with caramelized figs was airy and delightful. As fluffy and white as the cheesecake was, the nutella bombe was just the opposite. Described as "hazelnut anglaise, salted filberts & chocolate sorbet," to us it was small round thing of super dense and delicious chocolate, with some ignorable chocolate sorbet and nuts to its right. Leaving the accompaniments aside, that anglaise was delicious. J enjoyed scraping a bit of each dessert onto his fork and eating them together. So wild.

We've been heading back to Alexandria over and over recently, and admittedly this particular evening was inspired by The NY Times.

The atmosphere in Vermilion was nice--I knew if the lounge was crowded the first level could get loud and smoky, two things that would make me sad. Neither of those things occurred. It was slightly noisy, but I'm not convinced that being upstairs would have made a difference. The lighting was not too light or too dark, the red color (or "vermilion") throughout was warm and inviting, and the gas lamps were charming. The seating was funky, especially in the lounge--similar to Tallula, Vermilion's sister.

My only complaint is that the bathrooms did not match the dining room in the slightest. Not in color, class, or style. Outside, the warm red color and stylish decor ruled. Inside the bathroom were walls horizontally striped with a circus-y purple/yellow/blue and stall doors that were once covered in black paint, but were now chipping. Badly. Also, for some reason right inside the women's bathroom was an old chair that looked like 500 mothballs woven together.

A sure sign you've had a fabulous, mind-blowing meal is when you can't imagine not have dessert. Everything has been so incredible, that you are so curious about what's next that you must have it. It helps that our courses were perfectly spaced. We didn't starve between each course, but we were definitely not rushed or overwhelmed by too much food at once.

I almost forgot about my drink! My very delicious drink! I had a King Street Lemonade, a mix of Absolut Citron, lemons, mint, sugar and a splash of soda. It didn't taste at all of alcohol and had a great balance. Too many drinks I order have been tooth achingly sweet lately, but I could have had three or four of these--good thing I didn't.

So if you don't go into the bathroom, allow Chef Anthony Chittum to surprise and delight you with every bite you take. I'd like to go back to Vermilion soon, it's one of the best places we've been to in a while.

1120 King Street
Metro: Blue or Yellow Line to King Street


Le Pain Quotidien

Le Pain Quotidien, or the daily bread is a Belgian chain that has begun to spread around the world. So far NYC, LA, and DC have the only US outposts. And now Georgetown can be The Place To Go for French-style bread/bakery stuff.

If it wasn't such a spectacular sunny but mild day, we could have sat inside at the large communal table. To many dining around us on the adorable (and spacious) patio, the place seemed more like Le Pain in the Tush. Service was admittedly slow, simple lunches took a long time to arrive, and no one was quite sure how to pay and get out of there. It was confusing--when we walked in we saw a small line, and assumed that at 12:30 that would be a line for sitting. Nope, that's for takeout. You seat yourself at Le Pain Quotidien, and then anxiously (if you're me) hope that a server notices that you've arrived and are indeed new! In need of menu! Starving!

The good news is that the food was mostly good. They translate tartines to simply "sandwich" on the menu, which may be the reason why some people furrowed their brows when their plates arrived. The tasty herbed roasted turkey sandwich consisted of 5 tiny triangles of thinly sliced wheat bread topped with a a thin layer of turkey and a squirt of dill mayo. The curried chicken salad was the same, but more generous with the topping. I was curious about how to go about using the cranberry sauce on the side, and ended up awkwardly spreading it on top of the chicken salad. Open-faced sandwiches create some problems! The black bean soup was watery and lacked flavor. The chamomile mint iced tea had the some problem--it tasted exactly like water.

When I go back to LPQ, I'm going to make it brunch. The blackboard out front boasted a goat cheese and asparagus omelet, but you've got to arrive before 12pm.

The best part about the meal, hands down, was the slice of baguette that came with the soup. It was absolutely fabulous, crusty and chewy, and all that a baguette was meant to be. There were some interesting looking salads, but I was hungry and felt like a smallish $12 sandwich wasn't going to pack the punch that I needed to keep going. And don't leave without getting something from the bakery--the chocolate chip cookie is great, as is the Belgian brownie.

Overall, I prefer the quicker and more reliable service at La Madeleine for now, but LPQ has only been open a week or so. There's more time!

Le Pain Quotidien
2815 M Street NW
Metro: Foggy Bottom or DC Circulator to Georgetown


Evening Star Cafe - an evening in Del Ray

Because we once were huge fans of Tallula for brunch and Buzz bakery, it was only natural to head over to Del Ray to try out Evening Star (they are all part of the same group). Of course, it also came highly recommended by a friend who has impeccable taste.

As per usual, I had scoped out the menu online and hoped that it had been updated recently. I was very happy to see that it had, and the Grilled Watermelon salad was my first course. The listed ingredients are tatosi, mizuna, herbed goat cheese, and pine-nut brittle. I believe the first two were the greens. The salad was fantastic, with balanced flavors, sweetness and saltiness. I wish I could have a brick of the pine nut brittle! It was also nice to have some watermelon this summer--back home the summer meant cousins running around and a giant watermelon getting sliced up. For two people, a giant watermelon doesn't exactly make sense.

For J's first course, he ordered a special scallop appetizer (I now forget the contents) but actually received the bay scallops over gazpacho. The mistake was realized by us, but because he's a fan of tomatoes and it was a beautiful summer evening, he ate it anyway. The scallops were tasty but after a few bites of gazpacho he was done. It wasn't bad or anything, but it was a lot of gazpacho!

Dinner brought me the seared scallops and mashed potatoes. The scallops were delicious, great texture, nice and lightly seasoned, all good. The mashed potatoes were okay, nothing special. My new thing is if it's not that good, I stop eating it (may seem obvious to you, but a few months ago I would have eaten all of those mediocre mashed spuds!), so I barely touched them. J had the peach and apple cider glazed pork chop, which he said was deliciously fabulous.

The real treat is dessert. From what I'd heard, Evening Star's desserts were a little inconsistent. Rather than risk it, we walked over to Dairy Godmother for some delicious frozen custard. The flavor of the day was banana pudding! If I hadn't liked the flavor of the day, I may have gotten The Turtle (caramel and hot fudge) with vanilla ice cream.

The inside was pretty cute, but we sat outside so I already forgot what it looked like. Outdoor seating was comfortable, but the table furthest from the door felt neglected--they brought their check and credit card to the hostess table in an effort to get out of there quicker. I sensed they'd been waiting long, which is tough with antsy kids. Our server(s?) were cool and chatty, which I like.

We'll be back there (to BOTH places) very soon.

Evening Star Cafe
Dairy Godmother
Metro: Nope, it's in Del Ray, Alexandria
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