Thursday, October 15, 2015

Turkey with a white table cloth

One of the things that bugged me while I lived in Berlin the first time was how Turkish food was rarely served anywhere except Imbisse (snack bars) or holes-in-the-wall (and in homes, of course), but rarely in sit-down establishments where you might go on a date or take your out-of-town parents. Most days, I'd rather eat Turkish food than German food, but I know this isn't how everyone feels. Older Germans I am acquainted with would never eat Turkish food unless there was no other choice and then they would probably grumble about garlic or spices or grease. It was also my impression that most Germans, though they were more than willing to eat Turkish food, found that it was acceptable for a quick meal or snack, particularly after a night on the town, but would never center an evening around a Turkish establishment.

So, it's a little strange that I went to a Turkish restaurant in the States right before moving back to Berlin, where entire neighborhoods seem to be powered by Turkish food, but .... what can I say... the alphabet made me do it. I will say that although Yayla Bistro was not bad, better Turkish food abounds in Berlin. Out of the four things we ordered, two were really good and two were OK. Our waiter recommended a glass of Turkish wine, which was really excellent - much better than I had expected. We also shared an appetizer of baby squid with honey vinegar. The squid was perfectly cooked and the honey vinegar added a really interesting component. Very few, if any, Turkish restaurants in Berlin serve such a dish. On the other hand, we also had a totally average spinach pie and really blah moussaka. Both seem to have been microwaved - the pastry in the spinach pie was really soggy and this totally ruined the dish. You could easily get microwaved food from a Turkish place here, but it would have cost a few Euros at most. What was notable about Yayla, was not how extremely friendly the owner and staff were (the owner was in front of the restaurant while we were looking for parking and went out of his way to tell us about free parking in the neighboring garage), rather the white table cloths, soft lighting, and older white clientele mixed with young white families. In my almost seven years in Berlin, the nicest Turkish place I ate was Hasir in Kreuzberg (I know the one is Mitte is a bit fancier) and it wasn't all that nice. I don't recall seeing any old white guys in loafers. While I was gone, there have been some developments in the Turkish food scene and I've read about the opening of two more traditional (real tables, waiters, etc.) Turkish restaurants: Defne and Osmans Toechter. The weather is basically unbearable and a jet-lagged toddler doesn't necessarily make for the best sidekick, but I think there may be room for a little optimism here. 

Yayla Bistro
2201 North Westmoreland Street, Arlington

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tunisia: No Brik Anywhere

I looked for a Tunisian restaurant and was really surprised not to find one (RIP Taste of Tunisia in Arlington). After much googling, I stumbled across the Friends of Tunisia Yahoo Groups page where Peace Corps volunteers were trading information on where to get Tunisian olive oil in the States. Trader Joe's was mentioned as a source, so lacking a Tunisian restaurant I went to pick up some at my local TJ's (ironically mere blocks from where Taste of Tunisia once stood). It's really good, flavorful olive oil and, in case it matters, the can it comes in is supposedly just like the ones you see in Tunisia. We had it with the really good Greek bread that everyone should be buying from Bread & Water at the Ballston farmers market on Thursdays with the last tomatoes of the summer and a bit of feta. It was one of the best lunches I've had a long time, so maybe it's a good thing that I couldn't find anywhere Tunisian to eat.

Trinidad & Tobago: Once more up Georgia Avenue

We were the only people brunching in Teddy's Roti Shop on Sunday morning, but that's ok because the food was really pretty good. It's also pretty refreshing to brunch where the parking is easy and the bottomless brunching twenty-somethings few. This is another restaurant where I would have liked to visit with more people so we could try more things -- the menu is pretty big and as T&T has such interesting influences on their culture and cuisine (African, French, Amerindian, Chinese, British, and Indian primarily) different dishes reflect different and mixed cultural influences. As it was, we split a potato and spinach roti and buss up shut with goat curry. Both dishes were huge, easily enough for two - we had leftovers for days and both were good, if not life-changing. My main complaint was that the spinach was clearly frozen spinach, which is passable in some contexts, but here the frozen flavor was the dominant flavor and really not great. Maybe this is what they would use in T&T, I don't know, but it wasn't great. On the other hand, the bread in both dishes was freshly made and absolutely delicious. We also sampled the ginger pine juice (like ginger beer cut with pineapple juice) and a peanut punch (like a peanut butter smoothie) -- both were really good, the peanut punch was obviously a lot heavier and thus, not really good for an already heavy meal. Teddy's has a great selection of house-made drinks: sorrel, passion fruit, sea moss, and mauby. All in all, Teddy's isn't the best meal you can get in all of DC, but it was good, particularly considering that there isn't much Caribbean food in DC. I might not all the way up Georgia Avenue just for Teddy's, but having sampled a good handful of restaurants in the area, this is probably the one I'd pick if I found myself hungry in this corner of the city.

Teddy's Roti Shop

7304 Georgia Avenue, NW DC

Friday, October 2, 2015

Togo: It wasn't yucky

"It wasn't yucky" is how my toddler described our lunch at Roger Miller, a self-described West African restaurant (a hole-in-the-wall, really) with a Togolese chef. And I guess that's how the grown-ups felt, too. The food was similar to the other West African meals I've had in the course of this here project, but not the best (RIP Royal Aereostar). The Ivory Coast waitress was not thrilled to be asked for help in deciphering the menu, but she finally conceded that the okra stew was a good Togolese choice. I don't usually mind the sliminess of okra, but this time the stew seemed more slime than anything else. And the fufu had less flavor, which I know is a crazy thing to say, but somehow this stuff was blander and less fluffy than elsewhere. The best dish on the table was probably the eguisi, but again the rice was not great and the goat lacked meat. The toddler liked the groundnut stew with chicken a whole lot and demanded we take the rice to go, but as much as I'd like to label him a culinary prodigy, he can't really be trusted. In sum, the food at Roger Miller is in no way worth driving to Maryland in bad mid-day traffic for. I wish I could say otherwise, but it's just not. Also, the place was clean, but smelled like an airplane bathroom.

Roger Miller
941 Bonifant Street, Silver Spring

Thailand: Spice Before a Return to the Bland

Having done this here little project in Berlin and DC, I can tell you that, if nothing else, it is easier to find spicy food in DC. Little Serow is a perfect example of this and I am pretty sure that there is nothing like it in all of Berlin where the Thai food is probably served by a Vietnamese person and dulled with coconut milk to the point where it's unrecognizable as Thai food. Did I mention I'm moving back to Berlin? Not for the Thai food, I assure you. 

That said, Little Serow is also not your typical US-based Thai restaurant. This is largely because it serves the food of northern Thailand, which (from what I understand) uses less coconut milk and tends to be a lot spicier than food from central Thailand like most Thai food you can find in the States. Little Serow, while not a fancy place, serves a prixe fixe menu for $45, doesn't take reservations (meaning that you'll have to stand in line if you want to dine there), and won't make any substitutions for vegetarians or shellfish allergies or spice phobias, etc. For $45 you get something like seven dishes, which left us more than satisfied, but not feeling near death. My favorite dish was a spread or dip made from finger chilies to be eaten with fried pork rinds. I am not the fried pork rind sort, but this dish had a really complex flavor with a seriously flavorful heat that wasn't entirely mouth-numbing. Actually, the food was less insanely spicy than I had expected, which may have something to do with the fact that everyone who learns you are planning to eat at Little Serow tells you how insanely spicy it is. It was very, very spicy and was happy to have ordered the sweet rice milk, which is not usually my style and was kind of like a rice pudding smoothie, but helped mitigate the heat a lot. In the end we liked all the dishes a lot - a pomelo salad with rock shrimp, a pork sausage with lime leaf, a catfish larb-type dish (my least favorite of the night), fried tofu with peanuts and ginger, oyster and cremini mushrooms with basil and a fried egg, and melt-in-your-mouth pork ribs that had been marinated in mekong whiskey (a close second to the chili spread). The only disappointing bit was the dessert bite they give you with the check: a tiny square of sticky rice with coconut cream, which was fine and admittedly free, but really average and in my opinion, a lazy thing to leave as your guests final taste memory.

Overall, Little Serow is was a really satisfying experience. The food is interesting and almost entirely delicious and I think the price is really reasonable for what you get. We also thought the service was excellent - the waitstaff was all really warm without being over the top (we didn't learn any of their names, for example) and extremely knowledgable. There were a few minor issues - the sticky rice dessert bite, the music is a little too loud, my stool wobbled terribly until I got down on the ground and evened things out with my napkin - no one came to my assistance or even replaced my napkin, but this is, for the most part, nitpicking. I'd go back tomorrow and I don't say that about most places I eat. 

Little Serow
1511 17th Street NW, DC