A delicious sandwich on a Friday afternoon

I figured since it was Friday and not exceptionally warm out, I would end the week on a high note – namely, a note of sandwiches. You see, Ironcityspy is now working in Courthouse – and after a few hungry visits, I have concluded that Courthouse is one of the best places around for work lunches. Don’t believe me? Think about it. You have Pho 75, Five Guys, Ray’s Hell Burger, Dehli Dhaba, and Fireworks. You also have tons of places to sit down and watch sports. If you want, you could even truck it up to El Pollo Rico in Clarendon for some cheap and delicious Peruvian chicken.

Such delightful foods behind that sign!

It is also home to one of my favorite DC sandwiches – the Monty. The Monty is from Earl’s Sandwiches on Wilson Blvd in between Courthouse and Clarendon. It’s ingredients are as follows: Freshly roasted beef, cooked medium rare and served warm with mayonnaise and barbeque sauce on a toasted sesame seed roll. It looks like this:

DELICIOUS. What? It is basically meat and sauce on a bun you say?  Ignorant fools. As any  devout follower of the pulled pork sandwich already knows, it’s all you ever need. That and Earl’s roasts all their meat, peppers and garlic in house, they hand cut their fries, and their crab cakes are made to order and their soups are made from scratch. It is this attention to freshness and detail that makes the place so good.

So you should go. Pick up this simplest of sandwiches from the smallest of sandwich shops (Earls seats about 10 people) and grab a local DC Dominion root beer while you are there. Or malt vinegar for your fries.  Earl’s even has non-meat offerings for those that don’t eat delicious things. Oh, but eat the Monty HOT. Hot sandwiches don’t deserve to go cold in your bag. Do it for the SANDWICH.

Earl’s Sandwiches
2605 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 248-0150

Kotobuki: The best little sushi house you’ve never been to

How do I know you haven’t been there? Because it’s in the Palisades. Where is the Palisades? Um. Nobody knows. As far as I can tell, the Palisades is a DC neighborhood that occupies that amorphous space between the Foxhall Road Entrance to Georgetown University to the DC Reservoir. However, I have no idea what the exact borders are, nor do I know whether buses run its labyrinthine streets. All I can say is if you pass the German Embassy on the road to Kotobuki, you are on the right track.

The Road to Kotobuki

And the journey will be worth it. Trust. I am a native Californian, and Kotobuki reminds me of our little sushi houses out west. It is tiny, with only a small sushi bar, about 9 tables, (get there early!), and minimal decoration. Ironcityspy and I have been countless times and each time they are playing Beatles music in the background. It’s also always early Beatles, 1963-65ish, which is the perfect time period for happy, soft background noise.

Kotobuki (no not the one with the awning - the one above it)

And the sushi. The sushi is cheap, fresh and good. There is no “Rollin’ in the District” with crab, Old Bay soy reduction and crushed potato chips (or whatever designer rolls are these days), but just standard fare done right. They have all the expected offerings as well as a few interesting fish choices thrown in, such as sea scallop and fatty tuna, both of which aren’t easy to find. Nigiri sushi starts at $1.25 a piece and the standard 6-piece rolls, eel, yellowtail, salmon avocado, spicy tuna et al, are $3.95-$4.95. The fancier ones will run you a bit more, an $8.95 rainbow roll at the most, but I mean COME ON. Those prices are amazing! And it is good. It really is.

Yelper’s Norry H. and Frank H. photograph better than I ever could

If you don’t like sushi, they have shumai and other appetizers, as well as  kamameshi and unadon sets, which have gotten great reviews. They also have additional offerings in Japanese that I do not recognize, which I obviously take as a sign of authenticity.

So how did Palisades manage such an awesomely random little haunt? Well, it turns out it’s not that random after all. Kotobuki is owned by the same people that run Makoto, the restaurant below it. Makoto is very expensive and known to be one of the best, if not THE best, Japanese restaurant in DC. It has been in operation for close to 20 years with Japanese Embassy folks routinely taking their guests there. So yes, Makoto is the real deal and, unsurprisingly, so is their little Kotobuki stepsister.

So find a friend with a car and go. It will be worth it.

4822 MacArthur Blvd NW, 2nd Floor
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 625-9080

SPY puts on her fancy shoes and goes to Restaurant Nora

Confession. I must admit I was reticent to review Restaurant Nora at first. I mean, it was the first organic restaurant founded in the United States, Michelle Obama had a surprise birthday party there, and it was one of three restaurants featured in Top Chef DC in a rare moment where the producers decided to spare us atrocious food puns and showcase DC food. To put it bluntly, Restaurant Nora doesn’t need SPY’s help.

Just an average Restaurant Nora night

However, I changed my mind. Why? Well, for one, the food was delicious. And secondly, I felt I needed to redeem the SPY name after IronCitySpy single-handedly ruined our aura of mystery and intrigue by confessing that he has lived off of $20 in cash and five-dollar footlongs for weeks on end. Jesus. It’s like I date Jared.

IronCitySpy 7346298365 sandwiches later

But fear not! For my birthday IronCityJared actually got dressed, took me to Restaurant Nora and TOTALLY redeemed himself. At the top of the Nora menu they tell you what is in season, and, assuming you like the offerings, I recommend you choose based on seasonality. It is a local and organic place you know.

One of Nora's savory tarts courtesy of Omnivores

IronCitySpy and I got a chanterelle, goat cheese & leek tart and grassfed beef tenderloin tartar to start, the pork shoulder and the scallops as our entrees, and the pear and Cranberry Crisp for dessert. Honestly, it was all delicious. My favorites were probably the two appetizers (they make a GREAT savory tart), but the ingredients in all the dishes were fresh and wonderful. Since I dislike overly sweet desserts, I must also note that the crisp also had an amazing mix of sweet and tart to finish. And IronCitySpy? He loved EVERYTHING. He said this many times.

Interior picture - doesn't do it justice

The decor is very DC – conservative, classy and comfortable with nice lighting and woodwork. It is wonderful for couples or small groups. The only downsides I can think of are the number of vegetarian entrees (though this is partially offset by their 4-course $75 vegetarian-only tasting menu) and the price. Look, Restaurant Nora is expensive. Some people love it, others think it is over-hyped for the money. Personally, I think it is an excellent restaurant with fresh ingredients and a wonderful ambiance. It is nicely tucked away off of Florida Avenue and great for  special occasions. Nora herself was even there when we were, which is always nice to see.

Any other Restaurant Nora fans? Haters? Advocates of IronCitySpy taking DCspy out on the town more often because she is a beautiful snowflake of wit and style?? Weigh in!

Restaurant Nora
2132 Florida Avenue NW
Washington D.C., DC 20008
(202) 462-5143

Nhu Lan in the Eden Center (Falls Church) is amazing

I have three talents in this world:

  1. Attracting unbelievably awkward situations
  2. Losing my check card
  3. Destroying my phone in impossibly stupid ways

Talent 1 happens nearly daily and talent 3 happened two weeks ago — so I can’t really do that again.  Which leaves us with talent 2. I really don’t know how I can lose it with such frequency – I tend to be serial killer obsessed with keeping things in their preassigned places. So here I am (again), trying to make it through the week with only $20 dollars or so in cash until my new card arrives.

“But IronCityspy! Why not use your credit card?!?!?!”

Also lost.

“But IronCityspy! How about going to your bank and withdrawing money?!?!?!

That would be awesome, except I choose my bank based on how badly I feel for it. As such, I picked a bank with precisely 4 locations and all of them far away.

Fairly accurate representation

Anyway, I was prepared to get my third stupid $5 footlong of the week, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So as I was about to trudge my way to CVS (only place to get a comparable under $5 meal) I had the genius idea to Google “cheap Arlington lunch”. To my eternal pleasure they spat out THIS!!!

As casual readers of this blog know, Spy and I are Pho phanatics — and for quite some time we’ve been meaning to go to the Eden Center. The Eden center is this crazy stip mall in Falls Church that  looks like it was pulled right out of Saigon. In addition to all the delicious restaurants, there are a whole assortment of stores for the primarily Vietnamese clientele. Moreover, we’ve been meaning to try this particular sandwich shop since Bourdain featured it on “No Reservations”.

Pulling in was something of a trip. I was definitely the only non-Asian there — which is certainly not a bad thing (you know the food is good when you see the indigenous frequent it). It took me a while to find the shop, as it was tucked away in the back of the mall, but god when I did was it exactly what I wanted it to be:

Hole in the wall

The entire shop could fit in my apartment (and I mean every inch of it), there were only two tables and a list of 6 sandwich options. Now for the uninitiated, banh mi sandwiches are this wonderful amalgamation of French baguette and Vietnamese ingredients and flavors (who said imperialism never did any good?). I opted for the shredded pork and pig skin, but if I did it over I’d either go with the pâté (which I suspect is just head cheese) or the meatballs. However, the sandwich was AMAZING. Warmed and buttered baguette with pork, an assortment of marinated vegetables, and some delicious spread (with fish sauce). Simply one of the best sandwich experiences of my life. But here is the kicker:

1. They were basically the size of a foot long

2. THEY COST $3.50 a piece!!!!!

So dear readers, do yourself a favor. Make your way over there and experience probably the only good thing to come out of French Indo-China. There are certainly other places that sell banh mi, but no where near as good. Though maybe do it before you lose your check card.


Nhu Lan Sandwich Shop

6763 Wilson Blvd Ste 14
Falls Church, VA 22044

(703) 532-9009

Sea Catch: Where fresh seafood meets Rat Pack decor and the first computer

On its website, Sea Catch describes itself as “Georgetown’s best kept secret,” and I have never read a more apt description. To be honest, when Ironcityspy dragged me to Sea Catch a couple weeks ago, I was filled with suspicion. Look. I went to Georgetown, have lived and worked in DC for years and had never really heard of Sea Catch. It’s old. It’s located on the ground level of an innocuous brick building  on a side street. It borders the canal, which is where I was secretly worried they got their fish from. I expected it to be empty. I expected bland Americana.

Fancy some sea fare today, old chap?

I was wrong. So utterly wrong. Sea Catch does good, fresh seafood. Plain and simple. Their crab cakes are divine. Their menu has remained virtually unchanged through time, but has classic staples like pan seared scallops with wild mushroom risotto, Crab and Boursin Stuffed Tilapia, and a selection of perfectly grilled fish with buerre blanc and mixed vegetables. The produce is so fresh, they don’t even own a freezer. They offer a $1 oyster happy hour and, for the high rollers, an $80 shellfish skyscraper, both from their marble raw bar. I mean, come on.

The restaurant is also wonderfully throwback. Now, glancing at Yelp, it seems most people rave about the outdoor deck on the canal. I went during the winter so have never experienced this. What I can say is that the inside feels like Frank Sinatra’s local watering hole, complete with stone walls, wood floors, roaring fireplaces, and crooner music. Unless you are going on a date, I recommend the more casual front room with casual tables and booths. However, if you are Cary Grant taking Deborah Kerr out on the town, the pink fancy back room may just be your bag, baby.

Finally, as if Sea Catch wasn’t surprising enough, the innocuous building I mentioned turned out to be the “birthplace of the original computer.” What? Yes. Apparently it’s a historic site because Hollerith’s Tabulating Machine Company operated there in 1890 and their tabulating machines were so popular that in 1924 they merged with two other tabulating machine operations to form “International Business Machines Corporation,” or, as we know it, IBM. It was registered as a historic site in 1984.

Yes. I ate crab cakes at the birthplace of the computer. And they were delicious.

Sea Catch
1054 31st Street NW
Washington D.C., DC 20007

A moment of silence for the closing of a happy hour legend

Beloved reader(s), the Mayflower Hotel’s Town and Country bar is closing. This is the saddest of news. The Mayflower Hotel, nicknamed the “Grand Dame” of DC hotels, is a local legend. Truman stayed there during the White House renovations, FDR  wrote his inaugural address there, Lewinsky stayed there during the Clinton scandal, and, most recently, Spitzer was caught with a hooker there. It is the spirit and the scandal of Washington, and the Town and Country is nothing less.

The buck stops at the Mayflower

I have been to the Town and Country countless times and it is exactly what you picture a DC politico bar to be: dark wood, big comfy leather chairs and couches, low light, and huge glasses of wine. You can spend your time chatting with friends or simply people-watching for someone famous in a shadowy corner. They also give you a complementary bowls of nuts and fancy pretzels to snack on, which for a poor SPY with a low alcohol tolerance, is a necessity. It is an ideal post-work relaxation spot, attended by all ages.

The Town and Country

Town and Country’s bartender, Sam Lek, has also achieved local fame. According to USA Today, he was  profiled by Esquire in October, his cocktail recipes featured in the New York Times, was named a Washington Post bartender of the month, and runs a charity, Sam Relief, for his home country of Cambodia. He has worked at Town and Country for 35 years and in the wake of its closing, he has said the bar was his life.

Sam Lek courtesy of City's Best

Apparently, Sam will still work for the Mayflower but at a different place. The Town and Country will be replaced by Thomas Pink, a clothing retailer, and maybe something else. It is part of a huge Mayflower renovation plan. I don’t have any comment on the merits of this plan, but T&C, you will be missed.

The bar reportedly closes on January 15, 2011.

My favorite DC dessert shop on a rainy day

Monsoons, rain, tornado watches. Apparently, DC has angered the Lord in a way we godless Californians do pretty much every day (see earthquakes, wildfires, mudslides, hippies). I could blame the Festival of Lights, but then I’d be  … Hitler? It’s also hard enough for our Jewish friends in the Christmas season. You try to make Chanukah matter, but religiously it barely does, your presents are restricted, Chanukah bushes are terrible, dreidels are worse, and  nobody sings carols. Sigh. It’s not easy being chosen.

I feel for you kid

Anyways, the weather is awful. It was recently my birthday and I asked my parents for a hearth for my studio apartment. I have been studying all the time, and  having a nice exposed-brick wood burning fireplace to frame my leather bound books seemed so nice. I ended up getting a backpack. Apparently creating a hearth is complicated, expensive and illegal. It is a really awesome backpack though (see it here). I also went to Locolat. My FAVORITE chocolate place in DC.

I have blogged about Locolat before, but have never given it a well-deserved full post. It is a Belgian shop run by a family of Belgian chefs. It is located near the  Florida and 18th intersection. The head chef used to be a pastry chef at Restaurant Eve and despite being written up many times in the Washington Post, you can almost always find him in the Locolat kitchen, making their desserts.  They have phenomenal bread pudding, tarts, milk chocolate hot chocolate and a FLEUR DE SEL CAKE: Caramel chocolate mousse,  vanilla sponge cake with a chocolate glaze  and sea salt. God. Then they also have puff pastries with cheese and leeks, prosciutto and swiss croissants, and savory waffles. NEED.

Look. I have wanted a gourmet local cafe for ages. It is what every cute neighborhood needs. Locolat fills that niche. Its small, simple and most importantly, the food is damn good. Go there. Support a true neighborhood gem and watch the rain from the comfort of indoors.

1781 Florida Ave NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 518-2570

Terrible DC vending machines and the coolest vending machines in the WORLD

So yesterday this happened:

Rage explosion. You know the reaction. The all too familiar feelings of exhaustion, hunger and anger build up throughout the day to ultimately coalesce into a BALL OF RAGE at the vending machine. You kick it, you shake it, but deep down you knew that the angle and size of the sun chip bag was perfect snag material. So yesterday, as I was watching this stupid situation unfold, I thought…why hasn’t this problem been resolved? Why am I still waiting at a 1970s vending machine for stupid chip bag while animals have been cloned?? And then I thought, I know! Other countries have amazing vending machines, don’t they??  Indeed they do. Observe:

The fresh made pizza vending machine and the medical marijuana vending machine. The Italian masterpiece makes and bakes the pizza in the machine and delivers it fresh to you. AMAZING. You can even choose different toppings. The “medical marijuana” vending machine is found in California (of course), and is apparently highly supervised. Whatever. We can now buy weed and snacks at the same place. Gold mine.

The smart car vending machine and the “anger release” vending machine. Nothing says drunk impulse buy than a car in a vending machine (at least it’s an environmental car!). Although it may not  beat the AMAZING “anger release” vending machine. Apparently they are in NYC hipster areas, but basically give you stuff to smash (not environmental! ) when you have a bad day. Want to smash the cat statue. Need one.

The french fries vending machine and the coke robot vending machine.  The french fries vending machine apparently deep fries things IN the machine. They do fries and chicken and…prawns. No, I don’t think I would trust the prawns. Meanwhile, the coke robot machine apparently walks ar0und Tokyo and talks to you. How ungodly frightening. The last thing I want is that THING following me home.

Okay, this last one is really bad but sort of hilarious. Basically, it’s  the claw game but you get a live lobster. Look, if you are an environmentalist, just claw the little guy and set him free. If you are not, I guess you sort of “hunted” for your food. It’s Japan. What did you expect? SPEAKING of Japan, they also developed this:


Yes. It’s a vending machine that tells you what to order. The machines have sensors that recognize age and sex with a 75% accuracy. It also changes based on the temperature and other factors.Ridiculous.

Oh, cafeteria vending machine, you shame me. The world has left you behind…

Thai X-ing: A Thai restaurant in some guy’s basement that you WANT to go to

Since I always have a case of the Mondays, I thought the world needed a food post today. I will admit the title of my post sounds a bit shady, but believe me this place isn’t. My beloved basement eatery is Thai X-ing. And yes my adventurous denizen(s), you will want to go there.

The cutest of restaurants

So that’s the place. That’s Thai X-ing. It’s the tiny basement apartment of Taw Visittaboot, Thai X-ing’s owner and sole chef. Like anyone’s apartment, the dining area is filled with books on various topics, plants and tchockies. It has a little garden patio out front for  one or two tables. The entire place only seats 4 groups, so reservations are very necessary. The rest of the apartment is, well, the kitchen.

Feels oddly like...home

Thai X-ing offers a price-fix, four course menu, which varies according to seasonal offerings and honestly, whatever Taw feels like. Some courses are set, some have 2 options. Sunday is vegetarian night. The weekdays are cheaper. When I went they served a pumpkin curry which was DIVINE. I also had drunken noodles, a starter soup and a wonderful sticky rice dessert. Taw himself came out and said hi. He is tall, thin and amicable, with a hippy ponytail and tattoos. All the recipes he uses are passed down in the family. Oh, but it’s BYOB: no liquor license.

Taw action shot! (via Yelp again)

My overall opinion of Taw’s little joint? I loved it. The food was excellent, a gem in terms of Thai cuisine, offering some welcome variety from the standard DC Thai fare. Impoverished SPY actually got a four-course meal, which was a nice change of pace from crappy stir fry and lean cuisine. It cost $25 on a Wednesday, which was reasonable. Honestly, it was just nice to relax in a cozy space with your wine and your curry. Being reservation-only, there are no people lurking about. That being said, it is quite a tight space, so be warned. Oh, and I noticed some yelp complaints about service, so wanted to say that my experience ran quite excellently (for the record).

So, if you are looking for true DC neighborhood fare, Thai X-ing is about as neighborhood as it gets. You should go.

Thai X-ing
515 Florida Ave. NW
Washington DC 20001
Ph 202-332-4322
Thanks to David and Jeannine for the discovery!

The day we have all been waiting for is finally here!

November 2nd, 2010. The day most red-blooded Americans have been counting down for months — if not years. A day where we can all come together and partake in something unique to this American experiment. I am referring to, of course, the McRib being brought back nationally for the entire month!


Look, I get that it’s election day and 9/10 DC denizens have been anxiously checking their Blackberry’s (likely clipped to their belts in the nerdiest way possible). But it’s just been excruciatingly hard to get excited for this election. Having previously voted in uber competitive Pennsylvania and Virginia, the prospect of pulling the lever for a non-voting member of Congress really doesn’t get my blood flowing.  But you know what does? The McRIB. Well, maybe not literally as it mostly clogs it — but you get my point.

Even the Simpson's recognize the perfection!

This is an area DC Spy and I often disagree on. When I look at the McRib,  I see the absolute pinnacle of modern civilization. How man could have constructed such a shining beacon of culinary excellence still astounds me. But I suppose that’s just the romantic in me – as spy tends to focus on a few minor details about this monument to sandwiches. “They just mash pork byproducts together in the shape of a rib” is the usual refrain. “I can’t imagine a more disgusting looking thing” has also been said.

Look, trying to explain the deliciousness of the McRib is about as useful as describing color to the blind. It’s an experience that defies any quantification. I’m not going to waste my time defending the McRib to Spy — but I’ll certainly feel a twinge of sorrow for her.

So today, do go out and vote. But if you are feeling as underwhelmed as I am, let’s just say I know the perfect pick-me-up.