Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hill Country BBQ

Hill Country Barbeque - D.C.

Filling, good barbeque with an excellent mac & cheese and a fun ambiance. This may not be the best BBQ I have ever had (definitely) but the chicken was moist and juicy, the BBQ sauce was tangy and good, and the service was awesome.

So I've been to Hill Country a few times, but normally it's for a trivia night, where in typical D.C. fashion I play political trivia and drink pitchers of beer. Don't judge. I'm a policy and energy nerd. I EMBRACE IT.


Anyway, so I hadn't had dinner here until recently. And now, I'm not sure why I never stuck around after trivia to load up on BBQ.

This place, as evidenced below, loves its Shiner Bock. It's all they have on draft. If you don't like Shiner Bock and you want a large selected of draft beers, this probably isn't your place. But hey, it's just a drink to wash down that sweet sweet BBQ, so what's the difference, right? Sure, we'll go with that. 

However, if you're so inclined, there was a pretty nice looking cocktail list. Drinks range from $8-11, which at this point is (sadly) pretty typical for any specialty cocktails in D.C. The drinks looked interesting. The next one I'll try for sure when I return was the Lady Bird Lemonade.

So the way that Hill Country works is that you order your meal ticket when you walk in, and then you proceed back to the ordering area to fill your order. There are several options. You can order for a single, double or four-person order. Or you can order by the pound. Meatz everywhere.

We opted to do the Two-Step (for 2) which came with 1/2 lb. moist brisket (you can get moist for an upcharge of like $4 versus the standard lean brisket), two pork spare ribs, two beef ribs, half chicken, and two 16 oz. sides. We opted for the baked beans, which had some sort of pork in it, and mac and cheese. And oh my god. So much food. SO MUCH FOOD. We had so much food that we have leftovers. And we can eat, especially when it comes to BBQ.

The chicken was moist and divine. Cooked really well. The skin wasn't really crispy, but it was sweet. I kind of would have liked it to have a crispy outside (not fried, just crisped), but I honestly can't complain because the chicken was just so juicy and tender. The beef ribs, however, were a bit tough. Now this I kind of blame in part on the cut of the ribs. They were big, but just a bit chewy. Same goes for the pork spare ribs, but they were still good. I just like my ribs to be a bit more fall off the bone, you know what I mean? Extra BBQ all over ribs definitely helped out. The brisket was, indeed, as moist as it was supposed to be. I'm not the biggest hugest fan of brisket (why? I don't know, I think I'm just not the biggest beef fan in the world), but it was pretty good.

For me, the highlight of the meal was actually the sides. The beans still had a nice bite to them. They weren't mush. Which is, in my opinion, highly commendable. So many baked beans just dissolve into mushness awfulness. It also had a shredded meat in it (because sure, why not have meat sides for your....meat). The flavor was really good though and I would order these again in a heartbeat.

The mac and cheese? Y'all (as my Texas friends would say) this was amazing. Just....look below. See that? Mac and cheese is one of my favorite foods, but it is amazing how much people can mess it up. This was a perfect mac and cheese for this meal. I had to move the container across the table and out of my reach because I think that, stomach fullness be damned, I would have eaten the entire 16 oz container myself.

So my recommendations - chicken and mac and cheese. Without a doubt the best meat and the best side. And I should say, I'm not even a huge BBQ chicken fan. But this was a good one. 

I would happily go again to Hill Country. And bonus, there was SO MUCH FOOD that now there's enough for lunch tomorrow!!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sushi Taro Restaurant Week

Sushi Taro

Absolutely worth it for Restaurant Week, Sushi Taro offers a diverse menu that is simple, clean, and well-executed. The pairing of sake highlights many of the flavors and allows you to enjoy the meal.

Restaurant Week is a great concept. For one week in the summer and one week in the winter, you can try most restaurants in D.C. for a prix fixe $35~. However, over the course of the last few years, I've found that I don't really like Restaurant Week. I don't normally order a three course meal, and I don't usually get dessert (so sue me, I like savory items better), so doing a three course meal at most places just isn't worth it to me. Plus, usually the items are limited and the service is meh.

However, I think I may have found one of the exceptions to the rule. Sushi Taro.

So for those of you who may not be familiar (me: formally guilty of this, as I had never been), Sushi Taro does a set tasting menu sets which all start at $80. So the opportunity to do a tasting menu for only $35 seems like quite a steal. And it isn't a dumbed down version of the menu. It is a wonderful highlight of Japanese cuisine.

I have a pretty high standard for sushi. There are many parts to sushi that need to be executed well. The rice and the freshness of fish, to me, are key. So much of sushi that you find can be pretty mediocre. But Sushi Taro was really a step above. Each piece was a highlight of the fish. The sashimi melts in your mouth. And the braised pork belly main course was sweet and savory with just the right balance of fat and tender pork.

For their diverse menu and their excellent selection for Restaurant Week, I would give it three stars and say that if you have a desire to do Restaurant Week, this is absolutely the best place to do it.

The meal started out with a trio of dishes. Spicy edamame, three excellent cuts of sashimi, and a cold soba dish with tempura bits, nori and scallion.

The edamame was pretty standard but a good appetizer to start.

The soba noodles were excellent. Just slightly chilled and dressed well. Not too filling but a great dish.

As part of the restaurant week menu, you can also order a pairing. All of our party did the sake pairing. Each sake was served chilled (as all good sake should).

But I also couldn't help myself when I saw a Gruet Rosé. Mmmm bubbles.

For the main course, you were presented with three entrée options. A 10 hour braised pork belly in sweetened soy, a grilled black code marinated in yu-an soy sauce, and a panko fried softshell crab and vegetables.

The pork belly was well portioned. A few pieces of soft, sweet, and savory pork belly served with a soy broth and a steamed piece of broccoli. It wasn't too filling or overpowering.

Others in our party ordered the softshell crab. It was perfectly crisp, and not soggy, but also not too heavy to overpower the softshell crab. I honestly think that's the key to softshells...if you drown them in too much fried batter, you are essentially wasting the softshell crab. But Sushi Taro highlighted the delicate crab well.

The next course was a series of options for sushi. You chose your sushi pieces and a half roll. The choices for a half roll were california or spicy tuna. The three sushi options included:

regular 7: tuna, salmon, shrimp, eel, yellowtail, white fish, omlette

japanses 5: octopus, mackarel, tuna, sweet raw (botan) shrimp, snapper

special 4: fatty tuna, kobe beef, JPN fish, sea urchin

For my selection, I chose the spicy tuna and the special 4. Even though there were fewer pieces, it was a perfect amount of sushi. The urchin was the most interesting, particularly since it was my first time eating urchin. And kobe beef on rice? It was pretty good. Although I could probably do without it. I think I would have rather had another piece of fish. But I'm biased, as I don't eat much beef. The spicy tuna roll was also excellent. Not too spicy, so it didn't overpower the tuna.

Below is the japanese 5 with the addition of the rainbow roll (optional addition). The rainbow roll was fantastic.

Lastly is the regular 7. My fellow eaters raved about the quality of the sushi. Soy sauce and wasabi went untouched. Everyone enjoyed the pure fish without any extra flavoring.

Additionally we ordered off the menu a plate of tuna cheek. Oh man. This? Heaven. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Well worth the extra addition.

To finish off the meal, you had the option of green tea ice cream or mango ice cream. The green tea ice cream was superb. And the portion made it a perfect ending to the meal.

I would say, hands down, Sushi Taro was the best Restaurant Week experience I have ever had in D.C. And now I plan to return for a longer meal or hey, they have an awesome happy hour!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Welcome to the Blog

As a D.C. resident of seven years, the transformation that this city has undergone, in terms of food, has been striking. We went from a city of steak houses and Ethiopian to a explosion of cuisine. And I love it. There are so many great places - everything from high-end tasting menus, to hole-in-the-walls - that there are almost endless possibilities.

So I want to review them. Yes, I know there are plenty of restaurant review sites. Yelp has given everyone the ability to write reviews. But I want to put my own twist on it.  I'm asked a lot by friends and family for restaurant recommendations, as I'm a big lover of food and I cook a ton, so I can be a harsh critic. This is actually, in fact, my second blog. I also have a blog, In the Kitchen with Little Buddy, where I cook a variety of dishes. I thought about having restaurant reviews on that site, but it doesn't make as much sense as having another venue.

I will be judging restaurants (loosely) based on a starring criteria. 0 stars is clearly the worst, and three stars being the best. I am not going to just harshly, but rather based on my overall experience and happiness with the meal. At the beginning of each post I will post my star rating.

So I promise honest reviews of places. Eat-in, delivery, take-out, all I will review. Now some of these reviews will certainly not be the first time I've ever eaten at a place. But I think that's okay. Hey, it'll keep me even more honest. And with that, we'll get started. Bon appetit, and have fun dining in my adopted city!