Food We Love: Ribeye Steak

I know what you're thinking.  Why in the world would you need a whole post on cooking a steak?  It's simple right?  You season it, you either put it in a pan and fry it or you grill it. Done and done.  NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND!  Over the years, I've grown to love steak but are loathe to visit steakhouses as I don't think I found many that have been really tasteful.  So, I've tried to find a tried and true method on how to cook a steak at home and since I've been living in apartments for most of my adult life, the method I usually use involves a stove top and oven.  So, here goes!


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2Amys

3715 Macomb St. NW
Washington, DC  20016
202.885.5700
www.2amyspizza.com
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There's a wonderful old movie theater in the Cleveland Park area of Washington DC called the Uptown.  It's a throwback theater with only one screen with usually a pretty big hit.  I love the atmosphere and the nostalgia it it evokes.  I went there to go see the Hunger Games (there's a theme here, folks) which was very good and as faithful as a movie can be to a book without running 4 hours long.  While the Uptown has its own charm, Cleveland Park itself makes the image complete.  I would compare it to a less dense Upper West Side complete with pockets of shops to browse and, of course, good restaurants.

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Evening Star

2000 Mount Vernon Ave.
Alexandria, VA  22301
703.549.5051
www.eveningstarcafe.net
Evening Star Cafe on Urbanspoon

I had a craving for fried chicken and an urge to take my lunch hour and keep reading my book.  I'm on the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy and it's pretty addictive.  It's not Harry Potter addictive but it's pretty damn close.  Evening Star is part of the Neighborhood Restaurant group which also includes Tallulla and Rustico.  I believe that Evening Star is their flagship or their first or I may be completely wrong about that.  Regardless, when I was looking for restaurants near me, they were close, had some great reviews, and had fried chicken on their lunch menu which is ONLY on Fridays.

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The Majestic

911 King Street
Alexandria, VA  22314
www.majesticcafe.com
Majestic on Urbanspoon

If you're going to eat in Old Town, Cathal Armstrong's restaurants have to be on your list of places to visit.  I've tried two of them (Eammon's and Virture Feed & Grain) and today I decided to have lunch at The Majestc.  It was a gorgeous Spring day and I had just gone through two pretty harsh days at work so I decided to put some time aside for a nice leisurely lunch of good book and some catching up on my reading I'm reading Catching Fire which is the 2nd book in the Hunger Games Trilogy.  I can't put them down and they are so much more than just teen reading.  And no, I've never read Twilight.  Really, no.

The Majestic sounds like one of those grand old movie theaters like the Uptown in DC or the Senator in Baltimore where it's a big expansive room with only one big blockbusting movie is playing.  The restaurant somewhat evokes that feel with the big neon signs on the facade of the building but when you walk in, all you see is casual elegance and grand old wooden bar top that is reminiscent of the 30s and 40s.  I sat in the back which was rather dark except for the lone skylight that only brightened up half the room.  The open kitchen is a nice feature but I was too far away to see the bustling activity in the back.  The waitress and I wish I got her name was amiable, friendly and extremely professional.  We even had some great small talk about the book.  They were also playing Florence & the Machine as their choice of music in the dining room which made me really like the place immediately.  For a drink, I ordered one of their homemade sodas which I believe was a kefir lime, coconut juice, and thai chile mixture.  The first part of the sip for the soda was cool, tart & sweet with the lime & coconut notes coming through but the last note and aftertaste had a small spicy tingling that wasn't overwhelming but made the drink very balanced.

I chose The Majestic for lunch because while I was looking over menus for places to go, The Majestic had three of my all-time favorite ingredients in three different courses.  They offered a fried oyster appetizer, a pasta dish with morel mushrooms and a vanilla panna cotta for dessert.  For the appetizer, I ordered the Fried Local Oysters with what is described as a creole caper remoulade and chives.  Besides the slightly pinkish color which maybe indicated some creole spices, I didn't taste the kick I would expect something labeled as creole.  The capers seemed to take over the sauce and was more akin to a smoother tartar sauce which worked quite well with the oysters and reminded me of the sauces at Eammon's.  The batter on the oyster was lighter than it looked (still no Pearl Oyster Bar like I mentioned in my post about Hank's Oyster Bar) and there was little enough as to not mask the oysters.  There were some soggy bits of the batter but overall a lot of different flavors from the savory oysters and crunchy batter to the sweetly tart sauce, made this dish very successful.

For my entree, I ordered the House Made Tortelli with fresh morels (!), brown butter, morel cream, and Parmesan.  Morel mushrooms (and I love mushrooms in general) are my favorite type of fungus not only because they are full of the earthy flavor you expect from mushrooms but also due to numerous ridges and crevices on the cones of the mushrooms that are the perfect vehicle to absorb and carry any sauces you serve them with.  In this particular dish, the tortelli sat in a bath of butter cream sauce with sauteed morels and crumbled parmigiano reggiano on top.  The tortelli felt a bit under-cooked to me and I'm a fan of al dente but this was just a tad stiff with more starchiness than I prefer in my pastas.  However, this was more than made up with the delightfully creamy sauce and the morels.  The pasta, the well-seasoned, well-cooked morels and the sauce all went so well together and provided a savory, creamy depth of flavor but much lighter than expected.

For dessert, I got the Vanilla Panna Cotta with a rhubarb passion fruid coulis.  The panna cotta was sitting in a rich red coulis with raspberries and blueberries interspersed around the bowl.  On top there was a twig of basil and what I'm guessing to be a strip of the peeled skin off of the rhubarb.  I didn't eat the basil this time but I tried the strip of rhubarb which was rather flavorless and I wasn't sure of why it was even included.  The vanilla panna cotta was cool and creamy without being overly heavy and the vanilla component was just right as to not override the creamy flavor of the panna cotta.  I did like how it paired with the coulis and fresh berries which gave a nice balancing tartness to the panna cotta. The color of the coulis, though, was a bit off-putting and along with the consistency reminded me of a spaghetti sauce which wasn't a pleasant association for dessert for me.

Of all the Cathal Armstrong restaurants I've visited so far, The Majestic was by far the best meal of them all. They gave me three nicely composed dishes which all melded flavors very well.  It was fortunate that they featured three of my all-time favorite foods but they presented all of them in a manner that reminded me why they were my favorites.  I would come back here any day but after this meal, I've set my sights on eating at the flagship called Restaurant Eve.
 

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BlackSalt

4883 Macarthur Blvd NW
Washington, DC   20007
202.342.9101
www.blacksaltrestaurant.com
BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Ah brunch!  There probably isn't a better meal than brunch especially Sunday Brunch.   The implication is that it's a special event during the week to be savored and guilt-free.  Every brunch menu is a murderer's row of food cravings with savory egg dishes, sausage, bacon, pancakes with sweet maple syrup, and french toast or waffles for breakfast and burgers, french fries and friend fish for those who like lunch for brunch.   This particular Sunday, I found myself looking at a long day of work due to a day-long meeting the next day so I wanted to start it off right with a proper meal.  I went to BlackSalt which is just right over the Potomac river in DC from Arlington.

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Honey Pig (Gooldaegee)

7220-C Columbia Pike
Annandale, VA  22003
703.256.5229
www.eathoneypig.com
Honey Pig (Gooldaegee) on Urbanspoon

I have this new app called Chef's Feed which shares recommendations of where to eat from local chefs.  So, if you're in DC, you set your location and you click the Feed Me Now link on the app and you're directed to recommendations for places near you.  I decided to try it since I was working late on this night and just wanted to grab a nice bite to eat on my way home (well, in the general direction of home).  So, I pressed the magic button and was directed to Honey Pig by Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef fame.

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Sorella

95 Allen Street
New York, NY  10002
212.274.9595
www.sorellanyc.com
Sorella on Urbanspoon

Unintentionally, my birthday weekend spent in NYC turned out to be a tour of Italian joints from Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria to Osteria Morini and finally to Sorella for a Sunday night dinner.  The restaurant is located way down on the lower east side, very close to Chinatown and the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge.  The neighborhood, on Sunday at least, is mostly closed shops with iron grates over their facades and if you didn't see the big red sign outside Sorella, you'd almost think that it wasn't open.

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Osteria Morini

218 Lafayette Street
New York, NY  10012
212.965.8777
www.osteriamorini.com
Osteria Morini on Urbanspoon

So for my birthday, a bunch of us went to Osteria Morini for dinner.  We had made a reservation for 8 people and got a family style dinner.  The restaurant lives up to its billing as a casual Italian restaurant with an emphasis on a home-style family meal.  The furnishings were eclectic, mismatched and you really did feel like you were sitting in someone's dining room just off the kitchen.  Even the serving plates and dishes had that floral pattern that everyone associates with your grandparents or something you grew up with.

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The Wren

344 Bowery
New York, NY  10012
212.388.0148
www.thewrennyc.com
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The Wren is a relatively new bar in the East Village just across the street from the Bowery Hotel.  While it offers food (good food at that!), it is more of a specialty drinks establishment like Little Branch or Lovers of Today but with more of a light and airy feel instead of the subterranean vibe that other "speakeasy" places evoke.  We decided to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon enjoying a few drinks and our first drinking hole was The Wren.

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Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria

53 Great Jones Street
New York, NY  10012
212.837.2622
www.ilbucovineria.com
Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria on Urbanspoon

Il Buco is a great little "jack of all trades" shop located in the East Village.  It has offerings of specialty Italian goods and a cute restaurant space in the back room.  If you ever find yourself craving some wine or coffee or some prosciutto, you'll never be disappointed if you go visit Il Buco.  The space itself reminds you of a rustic Italian Cafe complete with old wooden barrels, a coffee bar and a wide spread of meats and cheeses available to take out.  The whole space is filled with various sizes of tables and chairs where people can sit and enjoy the various offerings of Il Buco.  This gives the joint a feel of an busy market with people milling about throughout the space.

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Brass Rail

135 Washington Street
Hoboken, NJ  07030
201.659.7074
www.thebrassrailnj.com
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Considering that I called Hoboken my home during my last few years in the City, I thought it was appropriate to start off my birthday weekend eating in one of Hoboken's classic restaurant bars.  The Brass Rail is slightly more elevated than your average pub but not by much.  There is still the big bar top, the flat screen TVs and the waitresses in tight fitting outfits but the food is purported to be a bit better.  I've heard that the brunch, especially, is something worth trying.

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Num Pang

140 East 41st Street
New York, NY  10017
212.867.8889
www.numpangnyc.com
Num Pang Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Every time I come to NYC these days, I usually spend some time with friends who live near Grand Central Station which is, coincidentally, just a block away from where I used to work.  I thought I had known ever place to grab a bite in the area but since I've been gone, Num Pang has opened up and boy do I wish it was there every time I was looking for a place to eat lunch.  I first tried Num Pang about 5 months ago and it is now a regular staple for every visit to the City.  In fact, it may be the first place I stop to eat when I'm hungry.   Today was no different.

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Food We Love: PBR

PBR

I mentioned this a bit in my post about Volt when I was pleasantly surprised that they offered PBR on their menu.  In recent years PBR has become somewhat popular and accepted throughout a variety of venues.  I'm not going to say that I buy into the "hip"-ness of the beer or that it has some fantastic flavors that you can't find anywhere else.  What I do know about PBR is that I really enjoy the taste of the beer since I can consume a good quantity without feeling weighed down.  I also know that some of my fondest experiences while in NYC involved long afternoons of drinking tall boys of PBR.  There isn't a better place than Doc Holliday's, in the East Village, to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon while drinking PBR.  Among the trendy and chic in TriBeCa, you can find The Patriot Saloon and it wouldn't be a complete visit unless you had some PBR and tequila.  Automatic Slim's near the MPD wouldn't be the same without some PBR.  I guess this is not only a nod to one of my favorite beers but also my affinity for dive bars.  In all my experience, I just think it's hard to beat having a few PBRs with good friends in a casual atmosphere.

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Volt

228 North Market St
Frederick, MD  21701
301.696.8658
www.voltrestaurant.com
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When I think of my top five favorite restaurants, I'm certain that a place like Volt would never make it on that list.  But, I think that's mainly because the criteria I use is not just the quality of the food but whether or not it is reasonable to come back over and over again.  For the restaurants on my top five list, I can see myself going back repeatedly and I have.  For a place like Volt, you need to plan it out well in advance and it certainly does not evoke the casualness that I like in my top five.  That being said, Volt definitely makes my top five if I were just rating the best meals I've ever had in a restaurant.  It may even be at the top of that list.

So, instead of going to Woodberry Kitchen for my birthday this year (like I thought I would), I managed to get a reservation for Volt on short notice (someone happened to cancel).  So, eight of us made the drive up to Frederick, MD.  Having eight people go was good and bad.  It was good because we have the opportunity to try a good variety of the dishes on the tasting menu.  It was bad because you could only choose either the four-course tasting menu ($80 per person) or the seven-course tasting menu ($95) so either way, it was not going to be an inexpensive meal.  The best part about it was that my two young nieces came so that they could have the opportunity to taste such great food at such a young age (9 and 11).

Now, when I go to places like Volt, I always have hesitation since it is pretty famous with a celebrity chef in Bryan Voltaggio and so you're not sure if the draw is to the star power of the chef or the star power of the food.  In a lot of cases, these places also either take themselves to seriously or try way to hard.  So, when we first walked in and the staff was wearing Converse "chucks" with their ties and dress pants, I began to worry if I had made a good choice.  When they led us to our table, it dawned on us just how lucky we were that someone decided to cancel their reservation.    I, apparently, reserved the private dining room which is a  room with windows on all sides and rounded off on one end and was so appropriate and beautiful that my doubts about Volt had already dissipated.  The main dining room looked to be packed with tables and a bit cramped so we were thankful to have a room all to ourselves for our first experience here though it may have spoiled us forever.

We decided that all of us should go with the four-course tasting menu (even though they did have a kids' menu) and even though I linked the menu above, it changes constantly and you may have most of the items you find on the website but there also may be one or two changes.  So, the best thing about dining with your family is that the meal really becomes a family style meal even though each person is given their own individual portion.  This allowed for me to taste just about every dish that the table ordered. We were started off with an amuse bouche macaroon with a soft foie gras mousse center.  Right then, we knew we were in for a culinary experience.

For appetizers, we ordered four out of the five selections.  One of the quirky things about the restaurant is that the menu only lists the ingredients of the dishes but not how they are prepared.  So, the four dishes we ordered for the first course were listed like:


  • kampachi blood orange, nasturtium, ginger
  • venison horseradish, green apple, rye
  • jonah crab cucumber, green mango, coriander
  • beet walnuts, blue cheese, watercress, sherry vinaigrette
I ordered the kampachi which was sliced somewhat thinly and served raw with the nasturtium (a type of edible flower), fennel, and dried ginger with a drizzling of a blood orange reduction and some olive oil.  The fish was light, very fresh with some sweet notes.  It was balanced off by the crunch of the ginger and the acidity of the blood orange.  All in all, a great palate cleanser to start off the meal.  The venison was served as a tartare with a horseradish reduction and what looked like bread crumbs piled on top.  You would coat the tartare in the bread crumbs and run it through the reduction which provided a great bite of rich venison flavor, a good amount of crunch and the slight kick of the horseradish.  The Jonah crab was packed together with some corn and sat beside two reductions (green mango & cucumber).  It was yet again another refreshing bite with a choice of sweet dipping sauces.  The beets were a revelation.  They were marinated in sherry vinaigrette and sprinkled with goat cheese and watercress.  The sweetness of the beets really came through but were tempered enough by the vinaigrette.  The highlight of the dish was a beet sorbet in the middle of the dish which really emphasized the beet flavors with sweet creamy overtones.

For the second course we ordered:
  • ravioli black trumpet, celery root, goat cheese
  • turbot butternut squash, brussels sprouts, radish
  • foie gras ruby beets, blood orange, fennel
  • sweetbreads sunchoke, black kale, bacon
I wasn't able to get a bite of the ravioli but it looked very interesting especially with the foam on top and some sort of ash sprinkled on the side.  The turbot seemed like it was poached sitting on slices of radish, brussels sprouts and what I believe were toasted seeds from the butternut squash.  The liquid seemed to be a mixture of the poaching liquid and a butternut squash reduction.  The fish was tender and creamy almost while the seeds added a very interesting texture somewhat like crunchy oatmeal.  They served the foie gras as a mousse and it sat on a ruby beet sauce with slices of blood orange and fennel leaves on top.  Mixing the sweetness of the fruits and beets together gave it a nice blend of sweet and savory but the dish was really made complete when you spread everything on top of the accompanying slices of toasted hazelnut wheat bread which brought yet another level of savory sweetness to everything else.  I ordered the sweetbreads (which is the hypothalamus gland) and it was probably my favorite dish of the night, though that's a really tough call.  What I do know is that when I passed it down to share with my father, it never came back to me.  The sweetbreads were grilled to a golden brown and were meaty and rich with no aftertaste (which I've experienced before when I ordered sweetbreads).  They sat on a bed of black kale that had been sauteed and cooked with the bacon and finally the sunchokes were deep fried and came out almost like a potato wedge but much sweeter in flavor.  Overall, it was a rich and earthy dish that left me wishing for more.

For our next course, we ordered:
  • lobster black forbidden rice, coconut, madras curry
  • sturgeon jerusalem artichokes, maroon carrot, fennel
  • lamb cauliflower, chick pea, golden raisin
  • pork potatoes, baby turnips, hickory smoke
There seemed to be about 4 orders of the lobster on the table (my nieces can't get enough of lobster) and I had no trouble sampling all parts of it.  The lobster was butter poached and sat on a bed of black rice mixed with a hint of curry with a coconut reduction sauce.  If you wanted some kick, there was a good dose of curry sprinkled on some fennel on the side.  The lobster was a touch overcooked and a bit tough but the flavor was buttery rich and sweet and paired beautifully with the sweet stickiness of the rice and coconut.  I felt that the kick from the curry was needed to balance it out a touch but most at the table were content not to try it.  I ordered the sturgeon which was pan seared with a crisp coating on one of the edges.  There were pieces of sauteed sunchokes (jersualem artichokes) and carrot mixed in a broth made of the sturgeon's pan juices and butter.  They placed the sturgeon directly in the broth and while the sturgeon was flaky and had a great crispiness to it, the best part of the dish was the wonderful broth which was rich with a depth of flavor that was hard to fathom. The vegetables soaked up all these flavors and it added wonderfully to their natural sweetness.  I wish I could write more about the lamb but I only got one small bite before it was gone.  It was perfectly cooked to medium rare but I didn't get to mix it with the grilled cauliflower or any of the other ingredients on the plate.  The pork was smoked with baby turnips and placed beside two small beds of mashed potatoes.  The pork turned out juicy and soft with just a hint of smokiness (frankly I wanted more of that).  The mash was creamy and smooth with a rich reduction of what seemed to be juices from the pork mixed in.  The dish was wonderfully rich and a uplifted play on your classic pork chop and mashed potatoes.

Our final and dessert course consisted of:
  • banana black sesame, coconut, pineapple
  • chocolate marshmallow, caramel, peanut
  • apple cinnamon, rosemary, almond
My choice was the banana dessert which was composed of thin slices of pineapple, a creamy banana reduction and a black sesame sponge cake.  The cake was a surprise as it had a bit of kick in it from the sesame yet remained a bit sweet and light.  The slight tartness of the pineapple strips blended well with the cake and the banana reduction.  The chocolate seemed to be a big hit around the table and I took a bite.  There seemed to be several types of chocolate used which really added a depth of flavor.  However, it was too much chocolate for me which is just a preference on my part (I know! How is it possible that there's too much chocolate?).  The apple dessert consisted of a rosemary and almond cake with some pieces of caramelized apple and what looks like an apple sorbet.  I say "what looks like" since I can see it in the picture I took but there certainly wasn't any left when I went to try the dessert.  The cake had a liqueur flavor in it and I'm not a fan of liqueur in dessert but it was more subtle than overwhelming in this dessert.  I especially enjoyed the caramelized apple and the contrast of the rosemary in the cake.

After the dessert, they brought out a french vanilla & hazelnut semifreddo with a candle on top to celebrate my birthday.  Normally, I'm loathe to have any sort of public display like that for my birthday but the semifreddo was simply amazing.  It was rich, creamy and decadent and I would celebrate my birthday every day if I could have that every day.  I also washed down my meal with a PBR.  I have very fond memories of PBR and any restaurant that serves that beer already has a leg up in my book.  Too bad they didn't have tall boys.

To finish off the meal, we were served four small sweet bites:  a caramel corn macaroon, a bite of marshmallow, a raspberry gelee and a dark chocolate truffle.  Like the rest of the meal, these were all impeccably done and delicious and was the perfect way to end an amazing experience.  I also want to give a big nod to the service that we received.  I had read some reviews about Volt prior to our dinner and one stuck out in my mind saying something like "I have never met some many pretentious young people in one place" when referring to the staff at Volt.  I would completely disagree with that.  I wish I had gotten the names of our two primary servers because they made the experience much more enjoyable.  They were knowledgeable about the food, they were charismatic and entertaining; and they were kind enough to answer the hundreds of questions we had.  I wish I remembered their names because one of them was even kind enough to arrange for my nieces to meet the chef and have their pictures taken.  I would love to be able to thank them one day.

I don't think Volt is the neighborhood restaurant that I would go back to on a regular basis.  It is, however, a very worthy food experience that I would put at or near the top of my list of all-time meals.  It barely squeezed in on my bucket list but only because of the hype surrounding it and the proximity to where I live.  But, after having gone there, it should have been placed higher on the list simply because they make great food in a great setting with great service that if you have a chance to enjoy, you should take that opportunity every day and twice on Sundays.

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My Five

As I've started to really post more on here, it occurs to me that I'm not putting any of the places I've been to in relative context and I have a few restaurants on my schedule (Volt and Sorella just to name two) that could very well be some of the best meals I've ever had.  So, here's my first take on ranking all the places I've posted about.  Unfortunately, there are some places like Mas Farmhouse, WD-50, and Babbo that I've had the pleasure of visiting but never wrote about.  One day I'll get back to them.  So, here goes, my first official top five:
  1. Dell'Anima
  2. Woodberry Kitchen
  3. Dieci
  4. Salt Tavern
  5. Sushi of Gari
My guess is that this becomes a top 10 or top seven after the next couple of week.  Can't wait!

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Bon Chon Chicken

6653 Little River Turnpike
Annandale, VA  22003
703.750.1424
www.bonchon.kr
Bon Chon Chicken on Urbanspoon

There are very few restaurant chains that I would think about writing a blog post for (I've been meaning to write about Five Guys for a while now) simply because I don't really enjoy the food from many chains.  Bon Chon Chicken is a welcome exception.  Bon Chon is a Korean friend chicken chain that has migrated to the United States with a few locations on the east coast that are mainly around New York City.  Over the years, I've heard quite a bit about the goodness that is Korean fried chicken (heck, even David Chang at MomoFuku Noodle Bar offers a version of it though you have to order it 24 hours in advance) and combined with my extreme penchant for fried chicken, I was really looking forward to lunch at Bon Chon.

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Starbucks

4238 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22203
www.starbucks.com
Starbucks on Urbanspoon

You're probably wondering why I'm writing about Starbucks since it's just Starbucks, after all.  I've already professed my affinity for Starbucks when I wrote about Boccato and heck I even have a gold level membership from them (not sure what that is but I did get a shiny gold card in the mail).  In recent years, Starbucks has made a push to offer more than just coffee, offering a wide array of pastries, prepared foods and they recently bought a juice bar chain.  Now, I've tried most of their offerings and they're better than your average fast food chian and when they first introduced old-fashioned doughnuts (from Top Pot in Seattle though that partnership may have ended), I was an absolute junkie.

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