Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thai Square - Arlington 10/15/2011 Update

Having been here several more times, I would say that the most important thing to bring to Thai Square is a Thai friend. My first meal here was excellent, but having returned with non-Thai friends and ordering randomly, I must admit that there are a lot of subpar items on the menu.

Their curries tend to be sweetish, overly-unctuous, and bland. Essentially, they are no different than curries found in your local neighborhood Thai restaurant. Many of their noodle dishes seem quite Americanized to my palate as well. Also, after eating their crispy duck dish some more times, I can't get over the fact that all you taste is batter and honey and no duck. It was like eating dessert.

On the other hand, their papaya salad with pickled crab is one of the best dishes in Virginia, period. But, of course, it is off menu and I would never have ordered it if I wasn't with my Thai friend. I am beginning to think the popularity of Thai Square has caused it to dumb down its dishes for their increasingly non-Thai clientele and that they only really serve the authentic stuff for their Thai customers. It is a shame, but I guess that is what happens when you try to get Asian food on the East Coast (outside of New York, that is).

Surfside - Glover Park

Surfside specializes in Baja-style Mexican food, and does it fairly well. A two level restaurant with somewhat limited seating, it was hopping the Friday evening I went there with some friends. It only offers counter-service, but they seem fairly efficient and it did not take too long for our food to be prepared.

Unlike most Mexican places, the chips and salsa do not come gratis. Nonetheless, we ordered a basket of chips with salsa and guacamole. The salsa was not pico de gallo, but rather a salsa roja that had a little tang and some savory smokiness. The guacamole was more run-of-the-mill, but was sufficiently chunky and seasoned to be enjoyable.

I got the Maui Tacos, which were chunks of grilled tilapia wrapped in white corn tortillas with a lime and sour cream sauce. Although tilapia has to be one of the most insipid pieces of seafood available in the U.S., Surfside did a good job grilling it, imparting just enough char to coax what little flavor you can get out of the fish. While the sour cream and lime did not add enough punch to the dish, with some the Yucateca Green Habanero sauce, the tacos got sufficient peppery tanginess to be pretty delightful. The side of rice and beans were adequate...nothing to be excited about, but competently done. An after thought, like the rice and beans at most Tex-Mex and Baja Mexican places I have been to.

I was initially a little apprehensive about Surfside, but I am glad I went. Perhaps not worth going out of your way for, but, if you are Glover Park, it is definitely a place to check out and try.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

XO Taste Restaurant - Falls Church

This is probably one of the most authentic Cantonese restaurants in Arlington. However, even though the dishes are all authentic, from their "barbecue" meats, to their noodle soups, right down to their casseroles, I came away slightly underwhelmed. Fundamentally, the problem with X.O. is one of execution: dishes came to us either under-seasoned, over-salted, or over-cooked.

The mixed barbecue platter of roast duck, BBQ pork, and soy sauce chicken was merely ok. While the BBQ pork was nicely prepared with a subtly sweet marinade, the soy sauce chicken was pretty ordinary while the roast duck was tasteless. Our steamed flounder with ginger-scallion sauce was overcooked, dry, chewy, and bland. Similarly, the seafood and eggplant casserole did not have a lot of flavor. On the flip side, the congee with preserved egg was way over-salted. It probably isn't a great sign when the best dish is comprised of stir-fried snow pea leaves with garlic (which were very good).

I heard that this place was owned by the same people as Full Kee in Chinatown, and the menus are very similar (X.O. eschews many of the Americanized dishes found in Full Kee). The eggplant casserole, for example, was almost identical to the casserole I got once at Full Kee (they even use the same casserole dishes), except the one at Full Kee had more flavor. It feels odd to recommend a DC Asian restaurant over a NoVa restaurant, but to be honest, the kitchen at Full Kee is probably a little bit more skilled than the one at X.O., and the dishes are pretty much the same. So, you might as well get the better prepared dishes at Full Kee and save yourself the trip to the burbs. I think this is a testament to the sad state of affairs of Cantonese cuisine in the greater Washington metropolitan area.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Duccini's Pizza - U Street Corridor

Duccini's, sitting at the intersection on 18th and U St., NW, is perfectly situated for the waves of late night drunks filtering out of Adams Morgan and the U Street bars on weekends. But, it also happens to be my local neighborhood pizza place, and all things considered, it does a decent job.

Unfortunately, they only sell jumbo-slices (this is still DC), but the crust is neither too doughy or too crunchy, and retains a decent bite. The sauce doesn't taste too tinny and the cheese, while pre-shredded and processed, is eminently serviceable. While jumbo-sliced, I never got a soggy pizza, which is the main issue I have with the other establishments located further up 18th.

I would (and do) come to this place sober, which, for a DC pizza restaurant, is just about the highest compliment I can bestow.