Friday, August 15, 2008

Lion City Lament

A comment from our friend LT tonight made me realize that our three days in Singapore in November aren’t nearly enough to eat everything!

We’re bringing friends who are food fiends, but have never been to Asia. Thus, ALL our planning revolves around meals, snacks between meals, and activities for justifying same.

So far, the plans include:
  • dim sum at East Ocean at Scotts
  • lamien & xiaolóngbāo on Orchard
  • Curry Buffet at Raffles Hotel
  • kopi and kaya toast at Killiney Road
  • Tiong Bahru hawker centre
  • Nonya food at Chilli Padi in Joo Chiat
  • Maxwell Road hawker centre
  • chili crab & pepper crab at East Coast
  • cocktails at Dempsey road and a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar (first time in S’pore, got to take them).
That's barely scratching the surface! Whatever shall we do?!?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tangy Yogurt Jihad

So it’s the season for cold sweet creamy stuff. But since one of us who shall remain nameless is a lactose wimp (Hint: her name rhymes with “Pleen”), ice cream is not on our summer fun list. Our newly discovered substitute is the recent national craze - tangy frozen yogurt.

Now this isn’t about ice cream. Moreover, it’s not about yogurt posing as ice cream - disguised by excessive sweetness and thickeners. No, this is about yogurt that revels in its yogurtiness - in the interplay between lactic acid and milk protein that provides that characteristic tang.

However, we have a slight logistical problem. You see, it’s roughly 241 miles from our front door to the closest Pinkberry location (Spring Street in NYC). Thus, the idea of a local source for our craving is attractive, but we’re not interested in good enough. No!! We’re looking for the best that DC area has to offer when it comes to tart froyo.

Such is the level of our dedication to science that we invested four evenings and an afternoon - to say nothing of numberless plastic spoons - in the quest for the finest. We even roped numerous friends into the effort (thanks to: SV; EW; JC; J; EN; BJ; CA; & RAmy).

Bottom Line Up Front:

TangySweet’s product is clearly the best. HOWEVER, Mr. Yogato is a straight up awesome joint.

Solution? You should get both. Seriously. Go with friends. Get a small Original to share at Tangy Sweet and then walk the five blocks over to Mr. Yogato and share a “little” of whatever flavor sounds good (with mochi!). At 125 calories per serving, you’ll walk it off in transit.


Pretty early on it was apparent that the two major players were Mr. Yogato & TangySweet. Therefore, our focus was on these dedicated joints rather than places like Sweet Green or Shilla where the tangy yogurt is a sideline.

Our methodology was simple. A tasty but light meal (pho & bun once, sushi twice, and some new-American joint the last time) followed by a visit to each vendor with a nice walk through DuPont Circle to break up the tastings.

At each place, we tried their plain tangy yogurt (that is without toppings or flavorings) along with a flavored offering.

TangySweet is all corporate cool. Slickly minimal design and efficient service. All the fun of a boarding gate. The product however, is lovely - cool and tart with a firm texture. While the “Original” is the one we initially focused on in order to assess the pure product, the flavors (we’ve had the green tea and pomegranate) actually show off how much they’ve gotten right in their mixture. The flavors don’t overwhelm. Rather the tea or fruit flavoring serves to accent the tang and taste of the baseline product. It’s an impressively subtle achievement. Really good eating and refreshing as can be on a warm night.

Mr. Yogato is a total contrast. Run by a group of friends, the place is cramped, cluttered, and covered in character. The walls hold love postings from customers and ideas for flavor/topping combinations. The staff are working the crowd and having a good time. It’s the fun of being a kid in the neighborhood ice cream shop on a hot summer night . And the product is good. Not nearly as well combined or tangy as TangySweet, but quite good. But here’s a serious note in their favor . . . they have mochi. Good mochi. Mini, soft, firm mochi. California mochi. Their tangy peach with mochi almost made us forget about TangySweet.

Note: We also liked the fact that Mr. Yogato offers creative discounts. They knock a few pennies off your purchase for singing along to favorite tunes, answering trivia questions, etc. But the biggest percentage discount (20%!!!) only comes if you’re willing to wear a Mr. Yogato stamp on your head.

Well, 20% is 20% man!


We know we need to try Iceberry, but rather than head out to Reston or Chantilly, we’ll probably wait until the new one opens in Georgetown (“coming soon!” on the corner of 30th & M). When we do, science will require we visit Sweet Green at the same time. So this probably isn’t the last you’ve heard of the Tangy Yogurt Jihad. Stay tuned. In the meantime, we’ll be bringing our racing spoons on the tangy-yogurt-trek across DuPont between TangySweet & Mr. Yogato.

41 Spring St
New York NY 10012

Mr. Yogato
1515 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

2029 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

11990 Market Street
Reston, VA 20190

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tangy-Afghan-Mexican-Korean-Salsa Dinner

So dinner the other night was a reminder of why I love living in NoVA, why the best stuff happening in the DC metro area is in the suburbs, and, ultimately, why America is a great place. A pretty impressive achievement for a simple Monday night dinner with friends.

Dinner: Afghan Salsa

We met two other couples for dinner at a joint in Annandale called Star Lounge & Ballroom. Theoretically the type of place you rent out for a major function, it also apparently operates as an Afghan restaurant. Who could pass that up!?

Finding the place easily right on Little River Turnpike, we entered and immediately had the feeling we were in a Soprano’s episode (albeit one dubbed into Dari). The CAVEROUS ballroom/bar area contained not a soul. The little room off to the right of the entrance held several bearded guys of indeterminate age huddled conspiratorially over coffee. One of them ducked out the back of the little room and reappeared through a door by the bar (“Ta-da! Now we are restaurant!”) ushering us over to some tables. Menus were produced, ice water appeared, and I am sure cooks were rousted from their dice game in the storage room. BJ asked, “How do you say ‘money-laundering-front’ in Pashto?”

Within minutes we had our lime-wedge-capped Coronas (what else to you drink with Afghan food?) and our conversation was echoing through the chandelier-lit chambers. Appetizers were brilliant. Aushak filled with lovely fresh scallion and oddly, but pleasantly, crisped on the bottom (like Chinese jiaozi/jiānjiǎo/potstickers). More delicate mantu with flavorful ground meat filling. Beautifully executed sambosa served as one giant pastry rather than individual portions.

The entrees were less impressive, but good. Nicely done meat dishes with surprisingly flavorful accompanying rice. The bread was a bit too soft for my taste, but that’s just a personal preference. All-in-all, the food is better at Bamian over in Bailey’s Crossroads, but Star is a trip. The people could not have been nicer. Service was quick and efficient. The guy running the floor shook my hand on the way out and thanked me for coming by.

And . . . there’s the entertainment.

Yea, I forgot to mention the DJ who appeared midway through our meal. He began spinning salsa and individual people began wandering in and ordering drinks. Turns out we had wandered into the “Miami Monday” at Star where, and I’m quoting from the flier here, “El Gringuito Teaches You to Flirt with Salsa & Seduce with Bachat” (Don’t believe me? Check out:

I ask again, what’s not to like?

Desert: Korean Cappuccino

So after Afghan food, Mexican beer, and suburban salsa taught by a white boy, what could we do for dessert except Korean tangy yogurt?

Just down the block from Star is a Korean bakery called Shilla that we’ve been meaning to try. People say nice things about their baked stuff and coffee. Having recently learned that they served their own tangy yogurt, however, we had to make a stop for the sake of science (see: “Tangy Yogurt Jihad” above for more details on why). Long story short, the place is great for people watching (too-cool Korean teens & too-coffeed Korean moms), and the bakery items are lovely in that Asian-take-on-Euro-confectionery way. The coffee is made without human intervention, save for turning loose the cartridge-fed automated machine - but my cappuccino was tasty.

The tangy yogurt actually reminded us of Mr. Yogato, except for the fact that it was presented by Koreans. What do I mean? Oh just that each INDIVIDUAL RASBERRY is placed on the yogurt by hand in a geometric pattern.

RS managed to kill his entire serving in about two minutes flat despite the miniature Asian sized equipment.

So the evening didn’t provide a new favorite Afghan in the area (that’s still Bamian or Food Corner for me) or a challenger for the reigning tangy yogurt champ. And I sure ain’t hurrying back for Monday Night Salsa. But it did drive home the fact that the world is at your doorstep in the DC suburbs.

Star Lounge & Ballroom
7203 Little River Turn Pike
Annandale, Virginia 22003

Bamian Afghan Cuisine
5634 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, Virginia 22041

Shilla Bakery
7039 Little River Turnpike
Annandale, Virginia 20003

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Road Trip

Me and my buddy JB will be taking a little journey to celebrate his new gig and see a bit of the country. We'll depart from Chicago on 18 AUG and head west towards Victor, ID. Should be about 1500 miles when we add in some stops.

Itinerary, route, stops, etc. still remain TBD. I know I'm flying back out of Jackson, WY on 28 AUG. Otherwise, it's a bit up in the air. Reports from the road will follow.

JB loves this part of the country, and I've thus been dying to see it. He promises some beautiful vistas and new experiences. Something about sleeping outdoors and perhaps building a deck onto his cabin. Whatever. As long as there's room service.