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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thing 54: murky coffee

This was breakfast Sunday morning:

murky: still life at breakfastSunday morning at murky coffee on Capitol Hill. Ben Folds singing merrily on the stereo. The happy chaos of a coffee shop, the calling of drinks, the whir of milk steaming, the click of the espresso grinder's lever and the dull thud that empties the espresso holder after a shot has been pulled. The aroma of truly fresh, complex, bittersweet black coffee.

murky is a community gathering place.

There is a screaming toddler, his mother consoling him. There is an ancient, disheveled-if-not-homeless woman, with a bag of nick knacks, who shuffles slowly, so slowly, between her seat at a table, and the water pitcher on the counter. Students with laptops are using the free wi-fi. Fitness folks fresh from the gym, still in sweaty gym clothes. And then me, meeting a new friend for coffee before we explore the sensory delights of Eastern Market.

I order a classic cappuccino and a scone. The shop is filling up, and I snag a seat at a table for four that is occupied already by a father and his young daughter. The girl, her skin the color of the latte her father is drinking and blue eyes searching everything curiously, is asking her daddy why mommy isn't there with them. "Because you kept her up all night! She is home sleeping." He gently chides her. She sips from a small paper cup of steamed milk, until, urgently, she informs her daddy that she needs to go. Now. He scoops her up and runs to the bathroom with her.

It takes awhile for my cappuccino to be ready. They don't hurry coffee here. I'm in no hurry, either. I nibble my cranberry scone, reading about world history and salt. My friend has been delayed, but on a lazy Sunday it's hard to get anxious about time.

After about ten minutes, my coffee order is up. May I draw your attention to the exquisite detail of my cappuccino?

murky coffee's classic cappuccino
murky baristas compete in nationwide barista competitions. They are repeatedly proven to be the best barristas in the metro area, the mid-Atlantic, the East Coast. It shows.

Care and passion has gone into every drop of every drink served at murky. Their training process is rigorous. They have partnered with a roaster in North Carolina that allows them to guarantee that no coffee served in the shop has been roasted more 14 days before. They are obsessive about where their coffee comes from, how it was grown, how it was procured and how it tastes in your cup. They have thought about everything.

And so I enjoy my cappuccino, savoring it slowly, sip by sip. You know that dry cappuccino foam, where you feel the bubbles on your tongue, and you never understood why people even like this drink? Forget it. Leave that memory behind as you drink milk foam that is thick, rich velvet on the tongue. It mixes with the dark bitter coffee, no sugar necessary, slightly sweet in its own right. Yes, this is what all of the fuss is about.

Like all the very best local, independent shops, murky cares about the product and the process in ways you just won't find at the bigger chain stores. The familiarity of a Starbucks logo in a strange city has its place, but it can never compete with a small local enterprise that cares about the quality of its coffee to an obsessive degree.

Sooner or later, my friend arrives. She orders the same thing, and we are equally taken with it. We laugh, loudly, as she tells me she may write a book, and I tell her chocolate angel food cake and buttermilk pie. Our laughter mixes in with the buzz of the shop, the sounds of Sunday city living. Everyone in the place enjoying the very best cup of coffee they have ever had.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Thing 53: Eamonn's

I woke up this morning with a fried fish hangover.

Did you think that was possible? I sure didn't. And yet, I woke up this morning tired, thirsty and with a raging headache. Hungover. And with only one beer under my belt from the night before, but enough fried foods to fatten up even Nicole Richie.

Was it worth it? Oh, yes.

Eamonn's Exterior on King StreetLast night, Jessica and I went to Eamonn's, in Old Town. Jessica works around the corner from the place, and yet somehow had never managed to go. I deeply a covet a trip to Restaurant Eve, but can more easily afford Eamonn's -- both restaurants are owned and operated by the same couple, Chef Cathal Armstrong and his wife Meshelle, and are each named for their children, Eve and Eamonn. Whereas Eve is probably one of the best restaurants in the area (just take a look at their tasting menu, and then send me a gift certificate, please!), Eamonn's is but a simple chipper, with a basic menu of delicious fried Irish and British specialties.

"Thanks be to Cod" is written on the glass of the front door. Indeed. The menu is simple. Fried fish (cod, ray or fish of the day, which was yellow tail yesterday). Chips, hand cut, twice fried, small or large. Seven house made dipping sauces. And something called the 'batter burgher' and the 'batter sausage' which I'm hoping means a battered and deep fried burger or hot dog. Sides of coleslaw, English-style "mushy peas" and baked beans. Three kinds of bottle beer and Guinness on tap.

Jessica and I had both come from the gym, and it was already past eight when we arrived. Which is to say, we were really hungry, which may account in part for the fried foods hangover the next day. We ordered a LOT of food. A gorgeous piece of cod for me, small chips, curry sauce, traditional tartar sauce and a Harp. Cod for her, a large chips, Marie Rose sauce and a Harp.

Thanks be to Cod.We doused our chips in malt vinegar, laid out our sauces and got to work. The fish is battered and fried to a beautiful, greasy, golden brown, the coating crunchy, the fish inside purest white, flaky and meaty and fresh. Piping hot. Dip it in curry sauce and oh....the curry sauce is the only non-mayonnaise based sauced, served hot and so you are asked to order it with your meal. It is a rich, dark, mustardy yellow, so fragrant with spicy sweet, I joked that I would drink the leftover. Actually, I nearly did:

I would drink this curry sauce. No, really.And I very nearly took the leftover sauce home to cook with in some capacity, but didn't think it could survive the metro ride home in my purse. Oh sweet curry sauce, how I long for thee!

So we dipped and ate, dipped and ate. The tartar sauce was creamy and delicious. I wasn't a huge fan of the Marie Rose, a mayonnaise base with sun dried tomatoes and nicoise olives, mostly because I didn't like the bitterness of the olives with the fish -- too overpowering. The fries were crispy and dark brown, thick and long, twice fried as all the best fries are meant to be. (Side note -- a really good fry must be twice fried, once at a low heat to cook the potato all the way through, and then again at a high heat to crisp and brown the outside. There is much writing on the science and method behind the french fry. It is something I have studied). Are these the best fries? I'd still stand behind the fries from Amsterdam Falafel. But these ones are definitely a pleasure.

Chips.  Malt Vinegar.  Harp.  Heaven.And then we sat, digesting. We dissected Britney's and LiLo's latest antics, discussed the minutiae of our relationships and professional lives, and mulled over the idea of crabs in Annapolis. You see, we were waiting. We were waiting for the food to settle so that we could eat...A DEEP FRIED MILKY WAY BAR! (da da dum!).

Holy cow, people. Holy cow. HOLY. COW. Now, I had heard of the fried Mars bar when I lived in England. One of my best friends at the time was Glaswegian (and yes, that is what people from Glasgow call themselves, and yes, it is the funniest word I know). He swore by the fried Mars bar, but for some reason, I was reluctant. I think because it sounded like the worst thing a person could put into their body. But, six years later and still thinking about the possibility, it is a regret of mine that I'd never indulged. I'd like to think of myself as more of a culinary adventurer, both low- and high-brow.

So how exciting that I could finally try one out at Eamonn's. For dessert the menu is, again, very straightforward. Milky Way. Snickers. Banana. Dough Balls. All deep fried. I ordered the Milky Way.
A deep fried Milky Way.  It doesn't look too exciting.It arrived a fairly unexciting tube of deep fried dough, dusted in cinnamon sugar. We cut it in half, and went for it.

Fried and melted chocolate, caramel and nougat.People, this is one of the greatest things I've ever eaten. RUN! don't walk to Eamonn's and eat this. (And you may also want to run back. And then around the block several times. And then over the gym. Delicious? Yes. Healthy? Are you kidding?) The candy bar completely melts in the fryer, so what you end up with is a shell of sweet fried dough, with a viscous, gooey, chocolate/caramel/nougat filling. I guarantee a state of eyes-closed, finger-licking, sugar-coma, bliss:

Now, as you can tell, this was a tremendous amount of fried foods, and it is no surprise I was hungover the next day from all the grease. Having never been there, Jessica and I did not have a proper game plan. So if you are reading this and have never been to Eamonn's, learn from our mistakes, and stick to the following suggestions:

  1. If there are two of you, order a small fish, and a small chips, to share. I cannot stress this enough. It's filling food. You don't need a lot of it to satisfy you. If there is only one of you, order a small fish and a small chips, and use all of your willpower to only eat half.
  2. Order the curry sauce. Maybe even two of them. Bring it home with you. Make some kind of spectacular rice dish with the rest of it for lunch the next day.
  3. You know how you just split a small fish and small chips? So you wouldn't be too full? That's so that you can order an entire fried candy bar for yourself. Be greedy. It's worth every single indulgent calorie.
  4. Visit the gym the next day.
  5. Repeat.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Thing 52: Meet A Presidential Candidate

You may recall, I once went out for eggs and met ?uestlove. Today, returning to the office from a pudding-buying expedition to the corner bodega, I met...Congressman Dennis Kucinich!

You may remember him from such elections as 2004, and 2008. You may also have heard of him in reference to the "Boy Mayor" of Cleveland, or Wait Wait Don't Tell Me's Official Hopeless Democratic Candidate 2008.

He was enjoying a late lunch with his wife, on the outdoor patio in front of the Greek restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue. I, the political nerd that I am, felt compelled to interrupt them and ask for a picture. They looked only mildly annoyed, but come one, he's at the top of the offbeat celebrity sighting cagetory! I had to ask! And he was happy to oblige. And now I'm thinking my vote is going to Kucinich in '08.

Mostly, I love how much I'm geeking out in this photo.

Kucinich in '08!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Thing 45: Vermilion, Revisited

I feel it is my duty to inform you that Vermilion's special strawberry cocktails in the month of June have morphed into special melon cocktails for the month of July. There will, presumably, be some other summer-fruited cocktails in the month of August (and I am hoping against hope for peach).

The melon cocktails I tried are amazing.

The "champagne supernova" was a flute of prosecco garnished with three small balls of honeydew melon which had been soaked in rosemary and just a touch of ginger. I was so excited I don't have a picture of it. I was too preoccupied with the sweet, rosemary-tinted champagne and the exquisitely flavored melon balls at the bottom of the glass.

Then I tried a martini with vodka, watermelon, and garnished with basil. The watermelon took away the bite of the vodka, leaving sweet pinkness instead, and the basil, soaked with watermelon and spicy with its own licorice taste was pungent and delicious.

Cocktails are $9. And order some hush puppies with house made blue cheese dressing while you're there.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thing 51: The Museum of Natural History

50 "things" and not one Smithsonian? Is this possible? Let's correct that right now, shall we?

T-Rex skull
Last weekend, the Boyfriend and I ventured into the pits of tourist hell when we spent a couple hours at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. I had slept right through the Market, after the exertion of the Mos Def concert, and by the afternoon I got to feeling restless. I was overwhelmed by the need to see some dinosaur bones. And the Boyfriend, because he loves me, humored me in this, even though fanny packs make him physically ill.

We entered the Museum of Natural History from Constitution Avenue, and immediately upon passing through the metal detector, I was face to face with an authentic maoi statue. You know, one of those Easter Island heads. Devotees will remember that this statue completely stumped me and GFD during our Urban Dare adventure, and was the only thing keeping us from victory. So, with this picture I have officially completed the Urban Dare. Ahem, it only took me three months.
An authentic maoi statue.  Finally.  Urban Dare is complete.
From the Constitution Avenue entrance, we had to go up a narrow escalator and then we were in the atrium of the museum, a wide, circular space at whose center is a a replica of an enormous tusked elephant walking through African sand. The atrium is lit through the sky light at the top of the large dome in the ceiling. The second floor's balcony is propped up by narrow, white marble columns. There is a desk for information, a desk at which to buy tickets for the I-MAX, and signs directing visitors towards all the various exhibits.

The atrium at the Museum of Natural HistoryBut mostly, there are tourists. It is July. In our nation's capital. In probably the second most kid-friendly museum in the city (second only, I'm guessing, to the Air and Space, which I simply am not going to venture into until at least October when the greatest gush of tourism will have subsided). It's not like I was surprised to find a sweaty, screaming, crying, running, hungry, cranky, photographing, bored and matching-shirted crowd there. I was ready. I had steeled myself. Still, it was overwhelming. Do tourists even enjoy the experience of the museum, or are there too many other tourists there for them to get even a moment to catch their breath and appreciate?

Which is kind of how I felt. The Boyfriend and I headed up first to the geology room, to see the shiny jewelry. In order to get to that great, glittering, blue behemoth that is the Hope Diamond, you have to wind your way through all these different exhibits about plate tectonics, meteor showers, earthquakes, mining and mineral deposits before you get to the pretty things. So much to learn, and so many people in the way. Every explanatory plaque, every interactive exhibit, every square inch of thick glass encasing twinkly gems was blocked by tourists in high-wasted shorts, their eager children or their impossibly bored teenagers. I can't say I learned much. Except that I really hope that, when the Boyfriend wins a bajillion dollars playing lotto someday, that he buys me a 142 carat emerald and diamond necklace.

Someday, necklace, you will be mine.
We strolled down to look at the dinosaur bones, too. Again, there were so many people everywhere that I didn't really feel at leisure to learn much. Stegosaurus bones are cool. T-Rex's skull is neat. And, um....strollers look hard to steer.

Stegosaurus skeleton
There was also a really wonderful exhibit of nature photography. This I can happily and highly recommend. Even though it was also packed, I felt able to wander and admire and read without too much tourist interference. The photographs were all prize winning, the best of the best from the 2006 Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards and the National Wildlife Photography Awards competitions. Each category had an amateur and a professional winner and the categories covered everything from birds to landscapes to human interactions with nature. All the pictures were displayed in full, perfect color, on large, glossy poster boards. One was an arctic sunset, with dark blues and bright pinks. One was of a big brown bear, rolling on his back, seemingly laughing. And there was this one, the grand prize winner of the whole competition:

The Boyfriend and I only lasted about an hour and a half before we had to get out of the crowd. There is so much to see, the stuffed mammals, the live spiders, the I-MAX movie about sharks. We will probably go back another time, when things quiet down. But right then, I needed to get out of there. The ginger chocolate chip molasses cookies I baked when we got home helped us recover. The best cookies you will ever eat.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Thing 50: 9:30 Club

Stimulant and sedative
Original, repetitive
Violently competitive
A school unaccredited

Along with such venues as Wolf Trap or the Uptown, the 9:30 Club is one of those places that is so laced with memories that everything I see there is enhanced and made richer by all those that came before.

When I first started going to the 9:30 Club, U Street was a scary place, and my Foggy Bottom-centric college self didn’t realize that the club was a short cab ride or an easy walk back to campus. I remember leaving the Guster concert before the encore to be sure that I could catch the last train before midnight.

I’ve seen George Clinton there. Twice. The first time was with Gina, and after a round of green tinted mystery cocktails from the now-defunct Peppers, we arrived at the 9:30 Club and hung out towards the back waiting for George to take to the stage. An old, busted-looking man approached Gina and told her he was in the band and could he buy her a drink. We laughed and rolled our eyes. An hour or so later, when the band took to the stage, we realized he had been telling the truth. Gina and I still kick ourselves about missing the chance to hang out on the bus with the Parliament Funkadelic.

The second time seeing George Clinton, after a round or two of Wild Turkey, one of my friends spent the night dancing with a man in a full body condom, and then we all rendez-vous’d at Ben’s Chili Bowl afterwards for some chili cheese fries. But not before said friend attempted to ride the pig statue on U Street, and ended up lying face up on the sidewalk.

I have seen Justin Timberlake live at the 9:30 Club, where I witnessed a friend (who shall remain anonymous as I do not care to publicly shame her in this venue, but you know who you are) who I never ever thought would do this, scream like a pre-teen girl, and then cry when Justin started singing. Weep. As if it were the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

I have seen the Charlatans there, going by myself because no one else had heard of them, and yet they are still one of my favorite bands from the time when I lived in England. I learned about the show the morning of, and rather than go with someone who wasn’t familiar with the group, or not go at all, I waltzed up to the box office that night and bought a ticket for one. And enjoyed every British, tight-jeaned, floppy-haired, harmonica-filled minute of it.

And I have seen Mos Def there. Twice, now. Mos came back to the 9:30 Club on Saturday night. I had gone to see him last time he came to town, back in early 2005, one of the first things I did after getting back into town after being away during the election cycle. I had bought Mos’ latest album at that time, The New Danger, while stressed out and working in Florida, and had listened to it on repeat driving back to this District after the heartbreak of losing a national election.

I’m like the second plane that made the towers face off
That s**t that let you know it’s really not a game, dog
Your grind and my grind ain’t the same, dog
I’m the catalog
You the same song

I love Mos Def. Hip hop artist, poet, actor, and just incredibly handsome and brilliant, he keeps me entertained in all his endeavors. And on Saturday, there he was in that little venue, not 10 yards away, in his white t-shirt, sunglasses and shaved head. Dancing and rhyming and cracking jokes. “You ever been in love with someone you don’t even like?” he asked, before launching into “U R The One”. Accompanied by two men on turntables, Mos went through a 90 minute set that included a nice balance of his old and his new, as well as paying homage to some of the old school artists that came before him and of course a shout out to Talib Kweli and Blackstar.

Of course, the beauty (and the beast) of 9:30 Club is that there are no seats. And the venue is small enough that you’re never particularly far away from the stage, you just need to angle yourself correctly for a clear view. If you are short like me, that tends to mean being on tip toe and leaning lightly on strangers for balance. The rest of the time, we were drinking Miller Lites and dancing, singing and laughing along with Mos.

The 9:30 Club excels at putting independent artists into a personalized setting where you can really hear the music and enjoy the band. And while Mos Def is hardly independent any more, and certainly not Justin Timberlake, it remains an intimate setting to see some really top quality headlining acts. Go go go, and make your own set of memories with the place and the people who play there.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Thing 49: The Uptown

You haven't been to the Uptown? You don't know how much fun the movies can be.

The Uptown is located a block from the Cleveland Park metro, on Connecticut Avenue, in that really fun and walkable neighborhood that's home to Spices, Dino, the 4Ps and Palena. So many memories on that two block strip of Connecticut -- of stopping in at Subway with a weird volunteer who cracked terrible jokes on a campaign I worked for, or of going on one heck of an awkward date to Spices, wishing the whole time I was celebrating the cinco de mayo with guacamole at GFD's house. There was the party GFL threw at her dad's house, when he used to live up there, back when we were in college and Cleveland Park seemed so far away and alien from our Foggy Bottom comfort zone. There was the time I was running across Connecticut Avenue with a huge cardboard box, between GFL's big blue van and the post office, dodging traffic. I was leaving for England in a month, and the box was full of all my nonessential items I was shipping ahead by slow boat. And then the heavy awkwardness of the box caused it to fly from my arms, into traffic, and all GFL and I could do was laugh, doubled over, on the median at the absurdity of it all.

And then there is the Uptown.

I first went to the Uptown on another ill-fated date, to see the revival of The Exorcist before going to the actual Exorcist steps in Georgetown and straining to make conversation with a beautiful boy who was dumb as a brick. We sat in the balcony, and I didn't know how to sit next to him, and we cheered when parts of DC were on the screen.

I watched the second Lord of the Rings movie there with one of my college roommates, when I had just finished reading the second book and we were both so excited to see it on the big screen.

There was the time I saw Pearl Harbor there, and Senator Lieberman and his wife Hadassa were sitting two rows ahead of me. This was about six months after the 2000 election, when I was still new to the 'celebrity' sightings of DC politicians, and somehow sitting two rows behind the person who was nearly the Vice President was so exciting. Better than the movie, frankly.

I have seen Harry Potter 3 and 4 there, waiting in the November cold to get in the theater after enchiladas from Alero, taking surreptitious slugs out of a fifth of Knob Creek bourbon, trying to keep warm.

And I was there again last night, on opening day of the fifth Harry Potter movie (which is so good). We waited in the hot and heavy July air, braving the occasional coolness of raindrops after work in the hopes of getting good seats, sucking on homemade toffee and comparing Harry Potter 7 theories. (I know it is far fetched, but I just really think Neville is The Chosen One. Nerd alert!).

The Uptown is special. Opened in 1936, it is one of the few single screen theaters that still show newly released films. It is designed in the art deco style as what was once called a 'movie palace." It is the only theater I know of with an honest to God balcony. It has its drawbacks -- the concessions stands are small, the bathrooms not equipped for a full house, and judging by last night, not the greatest of air conditioning systems. But overall, going to the Uptown is an experience, treating a movie as something special. It feels different than going to a multiplex.

But really, we go for the screen. The single screen at the Uptown, forty feet tall and seventy feet wide, hulking and curved, is widely thought of as the best screen in the DC metro area. The screen is so big and wide, it fills up your entire eyeballs. There's nothing else to see but the action on the screen. You fall into the action, all peripheral distractions gone, and only brought back suddenly when the action on screen elicits a hardy laugh from the audience, or cheers and applause. The pleasure of seeing a movie with 800 other people -- what is at heart a solitary pleasure is transformed into a community experience. Everyone cheers at the end when the hero saves the day, even though the celluloid hero can't hear you. You do it because all 800 of you are rooting for him, together.

And so I ate homemade toffee and 'butter topping' topped popcorn in the dark at the Uptown, diving deeply into the magic at Hogwart's, crying for Harry's solitude and laughing along with his friends, and along with the 800 others in the room.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Thing 48: Pacific Cafe & Grill

What to do on the 5th of July, when no one is in the office and your stomach may still be a bit annoyed that there was a bloody mary bar in your apartment yesterday morning?

Treat yourself to some pho!

Beef meatball pho
Or at least, that is what I had today for lunch. There's a Vietnamese place I've been itching to try ever since I strolled all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue to Trusty's. Past Eastern Market, at the corner of Pennsylvania and 12th, SE, it's a nice stroll from my office. And since no one is in the office today, I strolled down by myself, and requested a table for one at the Pacific Cafe & Grill (no website, but located at 1129 Penn Ave, SE).

The restaurant was large, spacious, with probably twenty white table clothed tables, and cushioned banquettes running along each wall. There was a large bar in the corner, though it was too early in the day for it to be in use. The decor was a bit eclectic, full of fake trees and paintings that have no running theme, no definitive style. One was an amateurly painted lake scene, one a large photograph of a flower garden...It was nearly empty when I arrived, perhaps because it was the day after the 4th of July, or maybe just because it's past the bulk of businesses and foot traffic in Eastern Market. I was seated at a window table, next to a table of three friends who appeared to also be nursing their hangovers with bowls of pho.

Some people don't like eating alone, but it doesn't bother me. When I was in college, I did some solo traveling in Europe -- one of the very best experiences of my life -- and the trade off for the freedom of traveling by yourself is that you learn to eat your meals alone. I had my book with me, and I was able to order what I wanted, lingering over my summer rolls, and didn't have to worry about splitting up the check when it was all over.

Vietnamese iced coffee
I stuck to the basics, a Vietnamese iced coffee, shrimp summer rolls, and a hot bowl of beef meatball pho. The iced coffee arrived along with the beautiful plate of toppings for the pho -- a plate of different shades of green and white, mung bean sprouts, a lime wedge, dark green jalapeno slices with white seeds, topped with two sprigs of delicate basil. I nursed the iced coffee, sweet with condensed milk, saving most of it as my impromptu dessert it was so rich and sweet -- almost a milkshake.

My shrimp summer rolls arrived, two fat rolls in their translucent rice wrappings, a single scallion poking out of the top, and the pink of two fat shrimp visible underneath the wrappings. They came with a peanut dipping sauce that was too sweet, but the rolls themselves were a bit bland, so I dipped them nonetheless, mixing sweet peanut with the meaty shrimp, cool rice noodles and lettuce.

Shrimp summer rolls
And then my big, steaming bowl of pho arrived. Admittedly, I'm not an expert at pho. I've actually only had it once before, back when I worked way out in Virginia, past the Beltway even (those were the days of car ownership and stressful commutes). Northern Virginia has a plethora of pho joints, most notably Pho 75, one of whose many outposts I visited when I used to work way out there. But for the city dweller, good pho is hard to find, and I will take what I can get. I ordered the meat ball pho in beef broth, which came piping hot, with scallions, rice noodles and large beef meatballs, strangely spongy and from a totally unidentifiable part of the cow.

I like my pho spicy, and loaded it up with fish sauce and chili sauce, squeezed the lime wedge into it, and added some basil leaves and bean sprouts for the crunch. A stir, a taste, a bit more chili sauce and another good squirt of huac nam. And then hover over the bowl, spooning the spicy sour salty broth, doing my best to eat the rice noodles with chopsticks (and spattering soup everywhere), the steam rising and clouding my glasses. I ate just as much as I could, leaving some broth and noodles at the bottom of the bowl, before turning my attention back to my iced coffee, a sweet note to end the spicy meal.

The service was attentive but unobtrusive. They cleared various plates as I contently read my book, although they seemed to disappear when it came time to get my check. When I finally got the bill, it was a bit more than I usually pay for lunch ($20, tip and tax included), but I also got two courses and a sweet drink. Plus I was treating myself and celebrating the fact that I survived the bloody mary bar, so $20 it is. The hot spicy pho hit the spot, and I left the restaurant satisfied and quite full.

Pacific Cafe & Grill

Monday, July 2, 2007

Thing 47: 2Amys


Remember back when I kept moaning about the lack of good, unpretentious, inexpensive Italian restaurants?

Thank goodness for 2Amys. I had never been there, but prompted by a comment from a reader, not to mention about one million recommendations from Sietsema et. al., the Boyfriend and I made a point of finally dining there. Oh 2Amys, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. The hostess told us it would be a half hour to 40 minute wait. It was a 35 minute wait. Which means it's busy, but not unmanageable, and they are honest.

2. I wore jeans. The Boyfriend wore jeans. The Boyfriend was even wearing a bright blue WAKA kickball tee shirt. In other words, no need to dress up.

3. Except for a slight hiccup in service at the beginning, when our waitress abruptly walked away and took awhile to come back, the service was very attentive. When we asked for our appetizer quickly, it came quickly. When we dropped cutlery, it was replaced right away. When I ordered the pizza on special, our waitress recommended a slight addition to it which enhanced the flavor (more cheese).

4. The lively atmosphere of a welcoming neighborhood joint. There were lots of families, lots of young children excited for pizza, and a mix of college students and old friends catching up. Indoors was a noisy rush, with noise bouncing off the tiled floors and a lively wine bar tucked into the back. We sat on the outdoor deck, which wasn't as loud, but had the added bustle of car alarms and air conditioners from the apartment building next door.

5. The food. In the end, I want good food. And the food was simple, flavorful Italian food. It highlighted fresh, quality ingredients, and simple, central flavors. I saw appetizer plates of thinly sliced prosciutto served with thick slices of peasant bread. Salads composed only of arugula and a large round fresh mozzarella. Garlic bread toasts with only olive oil and garlic brush on, and singed on the grill.

Potato prosciutto fritters
For an appetizer, we'd ordered potato and prosciutto fritters, which were breaded with a peppery, large-crumb coating, deep fried with a creamy potato filling flecked with parsley and thick slivers prosciutto.

The menu consists almost exclusively of pizzas, with some salads and paninis thrown in. The toppings are good - they have some interesting combinations, plus the basics, or you can create your own. I ordered the special, which had chanterelle mushrooms, grilled onions and squash blossoms. The Boyfriend went a bit overboard and created one with pepperoni and Gorgonzola -- both very strong flavors that made the pizza very rich. But the toppings aren't even the point. The crust...oh the crust! It's thin in the middle and the sides bubble up and are chewy and yeasty and crispy, and slightly charred from the pizza oven. So this is what everyone was raving about! It was completely satisfying (and made me very glad I didn't go when I wasn't eating gluten). We each got about two-thirds of the way through our pizzas, before stopping to have enough for lunch the next and to save room for dessert!

Pizza special: Chanterelles, squah blossoms and grilled onions
Dessert was a bowl of house made cinnamon chocolate chip ice cream. Now, ever since I bought my ice cream maker, I have been churning up a storm. Fresh mint with cocoa nibs, strawberry champagne sorbet, blueberry frozen yogurt, French vanilla...My freezer overflows with homemade ice cream. I tell you this so that you understand, I'm now a pretty serious ice cream snob. I sneer at Ben & Jerry's - mix ins do not a quality ice cream make. Haagen Dazs? I can do better. Breyers? Don't waste my time. But 2Amys' ice cream held its own. Was it as good as mine? Not quite. But it didn't keep us from scraping the last drops out of the bowl. And I already have my plan of attack for how to recreate the flavors in my own kitchen.

Cinnamon chocolate chip ice cream
6. It was cheap! We each had a drink with our meal, split a starter and a dessert and each had a pizza, and only paid $30 a person, including tax and tip. Affordable, friendly and delicious Italian? Finally. 2Amys has moved into our permanent rotation.

All gone!