August 6, 2006

I gain five pounds every weekend.

Why? BECAUSE I KEEP EATING AT NEW RESTAURANTS. Seriously, can TheGourmetro pay my gym dues? :P

ANYWAY! This weekend's been a bit of a randomness party, in terms of fooding. Yesterday, Aaron and Debbie (my usual partners in food crime) hit Minerva Indian Cuisine in Fairfax for a pretty delicious dinner. I hear mixed reviews from actual Indians, but I will say that I myself generally enjoy it. It might have a little bit to do with the gimmick, which I'll explain in just one second.

Minerva has a giant purple sign in a dingy strip mall on 29 in Fairfax, next to a snowboarding shop (snowboarding shop? WTH?). Inside, it's pretty cavernous, with what looks like an extensive buffet setup in the back. I assume it's for lunch, as I've never seen it in action during dinner hours. The menu's pretty enormous, and I could be entirely misquoting, but it appears to specialize in "Hyderabadi" cuisine, in addition to favorites like (Meat Name) Vindaloo.

Debbie and I both ordered mango lassi (mmm, smoothieeeee). Normally, I'd head straight for chai, but given the ridiculously intemperate weather, adding liquid heat seems a bit stoopid. Aaron's generally content with water at Indian restaurants...largely due to an incident at Nawab in Williamsburg in which he ordered something "AS HOT AS POSSIBLE" and uh, got it. (God, I LOOOOOVE Nawab by the way. LOVE.)

Entree-wise, I ordered Chicken Vindaloo (wasn't feeling too lamby, but I loooove Vindaloo anything) and Debs ordered Chicken something-something. It had almonds in it, and that's all I remember. Aaron ordered Guthi Vankaya, which was eggplant in an interesting, kind of peanut-y savory sauce. He gets points for adventure, but none of us liked his dish, so we ended up splitting ours. Here's where the gimmick comes in: When you order the Dinner version (as opposed to the a la carte) of any particular dish, it comes with six little side dishes, including corn chowder, mulligatawny soup, dal, and something else. Dessert, two pieces of naan, and raita are also included. Dinner orders average 12.95, and so for 13 bucks, you end up with a significant amount of food. Plenty ends up going home with you. So, Aaron ate all his side dishes and naan with my sauce. Still worked out.

Afterwards, we headed to U St, where I was hoping to get some Crunchy Feet at the previously mentioned CakeLove before hitting the Black Cat for the Depeche Mode Dance Party, but alas, no go. However, at 1:15 on the Metro, we realized we were hungry again and hit the Fairfax IHOP, which I'm sure we don't need to discuss ::foodie guilt::. My only comment is goddammit, COOK YOUR EGGS IN BUTTER. Thank you.

And then today, lunch led us (at Debbie's urging) to the inestimable Turcuisine in Herndon. So. GOOD. Very friendly and attentive service, for starters. We ordered the dolmas as a starter (rice pilaf wrapped in grape leaves, served with tzatziki and lemon)and they were SO. GOOD. Well, assuming you like them to start with...Aaron doesn't. Some people object.

Then, Adana kebabs in pita for Aaron and I, and a Kofta for Debs. I have to say, they were some of the best kebabs I've had. I've had some issues with kebabs being heavy and food-coma inducing, but these were light, and well-spiced, with some of the fluffiest pitas I've had. with two Turkish coffees sweetened to taste, lunch ran approximately $35 for three people. I highly recommend you try this restaurant if you're in the area.

Cue another break, and it was time for dinner with friends at Harry's Essential Grille in Tyson's Corner. I have to admit, I was biased towards loving this restaurant for starters, as it supports some causes near and dear to my heart: organic, local, and inexpensive. I was just waiting for it to live up to being delicious...and it did. I ordered the Basil Gazpacho and the Pointe Calamari (I'm a major sucker for fried squid bits, in all its variants). The gazpacho had excellent texture and was super-refreshing. The calamari's frying was excellent, but the cilantro aioli could have used more punch...maybe more tartness? and the marinara could have been more generously portioned and spicier. But, I have very distinct feelings on how fried food should be balanced, condiment-wise. Aaron ordered an organic beef burger, which came out slightly over-cooked, but still delicious, and served with RIDICULOUSLY good Yukon Gold steak fries. Mark ordered the rib-eye, which was also somewhat overcooked, but judging from the eye-rolling and moaning, I assume he enjoyed it. I can confirm that his garnishes were delicious - one was an ENTIRE CLOVE of roasted garlic. As a complete garlic devotee, I was very happy. Other members of our little party ordered the trout, Moroccan chicken, and two chocolate souffles.

And, as a bonus, bread to the table is a delicious sourdough laden with walnuts and other nutty bits, served PIPING hot from the oven with organic butter from a farm in Pennsylvania. It totally brought little bready bits of joy to my little treehugging-proto-ecoist heart. :P

All in all, from what I can tell, Essential has a few tiny kinks to work out, but it's VERY GOOD right now, and I think it's worth trying for all concerned. Also, their claim to "popular" prices is pretty true - dinner for Aaron and I was still only around 35-40 dollars, and we were both quite sated. Mark's rib-eye was probably the most expensive thing on the menu, and that was $26. It's a perfectly viable venue for dinner for a couple of postgrads.

Anyway, those are my food adventures for the week. Stay tuned - I'll be making excursions to Boston and Toronto for interviews in the upcoming weeks, and I'll be happily posting from both locales.

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