Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Too hasty with Tops? Yes.

In my first review of Tops Truck, I gave them 2.5 honks because I didn't take the menu as very original, despite generally enjoying my food.  After a return visit today, I realized may have been too harsh because I haven't really held that standard for anyone else.  I mean, take Dorothy Moon for example -- an unbelievable burger scored them 4 honks on the first try, and what's particularly original about a burger (other than DC had been craving a burger truck.)

So today I took the opportunity to make another trip while enjoying some lovely weather at Farragut Square, and man is that chili good!  Not real spicy, but a nice tang with tomatoes, a few green peppers, and pinto beans.  For me it topped french fries and well melted cheese.  Don't plan on eating it all yourself.  Correcting my earlier mistake by bumping from 2.5 to 3.5 honks purely for the chili.  (Sorry folks for the earlier comments, but I really thought the bun needed help.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Disappointed, and Not So Much

I was having a heck of a time trying to decide what to get today for lunch with only a handful of trucks tweeting they'd be nearby, but I hadn't had Red Hook since just before Thanksgiving so I figured that would be a good choice.  Hopefully today was just an off day because I'm sure hoping things haven't changed so drastically (for the worse) in the last two months.  Typically my roll is gone long before all the lobster, not just because it is well moistened by the butter poaching liquid, but because there is just so much lobster.  Today I practically had half a roll left and the substantially smaller quantity of crustacean was quite dry.  Really a let down.

On the flip side, I also decided to give House of Falafel another whirl now that the menu appears mostly "stabilized", not expecting much.  At first I ordered a beef shawarma, but noticed a couscous selection instead, offered with the same beef as the sandwich.  My plan was to sample while hot, then eat later, however I was still very much hungry after the weak Connecticut roll.  Since my expectations were low, I ended up reasonably surprised.  The beef by itself was well seasoned although a tad dry on its own.  But when eaten in a mouthful of all that was served, you're unlikely to be bothered by the lack of moisture in the meat for nestled between the beef and the couscous was, what I'm going to call, a middle-eastern style ratatouille.  I distinctly was able to identify at least zucchini, garbanzo & lima beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, onion, and tomatoes.  It could have used some more seasoning, and the couscous could be a little less mushy, but the combination of everything came off pretty well. 

The owner seemed crankier than I remember, and appears to not have figured out yet his business would do better if he leveraged social media like the rest of his truck brethren.  Not that there's a site to speak of up yet, at least www.thehouseoffalafel.com is no longer getting a '404' error.  Sticking with 3 honks.

Bangin' Bang Tang

More props for Alex at Far East Taco Grill for constantly evolving his Asian-taco fare (and then some).  During Friday's Farragut Friday visit, I was able to make my first visit of 2012 to find a new menu item and other changes. 

To start, many of the condiments have changed form, at least a little.  For example, there are no longer separate cheese and/or crema options; instead, there is a cheese-crema, which is crema with the cheese mixed in.  A new-ish addition, while it's been on the menu a while, the spicy corn slaw is worthy to eat a whole bowl of, although I don't find it that spicy.  But, the most important change in the "toppers" is the return of the pineapple sauce, this time kicked up a notch.  I had been begging Alex to bring it back after it had been off the menu since my inaugural visit in September, and I found zero disappointment with its delicious return.  There are a few additional minor changes, such as the departure of cilantro on its own; instead there is some chopped cilantro in the onion-lime finisher.  I was concerned the onion might be a little over-powering for a workday lunch, but the lime juice and Kosher salt to a decent job of tempering the red onions.  Having said that, not everybody is a fan of onions, so I'd like to see solo-cilantro return as an option.

On the protein side, the chicken has been elevated with a new marinade dubbed "Bang Tang", adding a little heat, yet moderate enough for those who don't care for spicy food, particularly once topped.  The chicken is now also part of a "Kimchicken" quesadilla ... just what you'd think: kimchi, chicken, and cheese grilled in a flour tortilla.  If you're not sure what to make of it, I wasn't either.  The whole thing works though, especially with the spicy mayo and sriracha it is topped with.  (Really.)  Eat it while it's hot though -- I wasn't able to finish before I was called away to a meeting, and when I got back to my desk, I didn't find it nearly as enjoyable.
Kimchicken Quesadilla from Far East Taco Grill
FETG has handily become one of my very favorite "go-to" trucks.  Thanks Alex; keep up the great work.  Maybe you should change the name of the truck to "Far East Taco Evolution" for all the changes you make to continually make to improve the dining experience.  :-)

In other news, long-time coming Borinquen Lunch Box launches today, unfortunately at L'Enfant.  I really want to try the churrasco sandwich.  Good luck folks!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

PORC & Big Cheese

Yesterday I made a revisit to PORC and my own inaugural visit to Big Cheese after having a craving for some Cowgirl Creamery goodness.  After my last visit to PORC then being told next time I should get the mainstay pulled pork BBQ, I still was delinquent in that task although it is will now be a priority.  (The box my sausage came in had a smudge of BBQ sauce on it which I couldn't resist sampling -- holy crap that was good!  So, next time, I swear!  I just have to be in the mood to have more of a mess consuming my workday lunch.)

So, what did I get?  Well, not quite what I expected, but still tasty.  Lamb & beef merguez sausage with fig goat cheese.  You can see from the tweet I was expecting some sort of balsamic onion reduction which I did not receive yet was really looking forward to.  Instead there was a whole bunch of mustard which, to be fair, I think I might have been posted on the menu board when I got to the truck but failed to pay enough attention.  Anyway, it's tough to go wrong with any sausage selection, particularly coming from Simply Sausage, and this one didn't disappoint with its fresh flavors joining a little heat.  Plus, the goat cheese was awesome.  Mild, creamy, and modestly sweetened by figs.  As I've observed at other places, while I thought there was too much bread (crumb) for the offering as a whole, I was impressed at the elevated quality of the it over a more traditional deli sub roll.  Sticking with 3.5 honks and will be definitely going for the BBQ next time.  BBQ Bus, watch out!  ;-D  (jk)

Second stop was to grab a sandwich from Big Cheese, coming out with an initial 3 honk rating:
Anything that involves cheese from Cowgirl Creamery can't be 1/2 bad, particularly when we're talking the rich & creamy Mt. Tam...  And this grilled cheese with apples and honey wasn't (1/2 bad).  As one might imagine, a grilled cheese really should be eaten right away when it's most ooey-gooey.  Unfortunately I walked 2 blocks in 50* temps to my office which steamed the bread more than I would have liked.  My fault and I'll know next time.  Bites which included apple were better than those without apple where I just ended up with mostly a mouthful of just wholegrain bread.  It is a pretty good sized sandwich, but isn't close to filling me up at $6.50.
Mt. Fuji from Big Cheese

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mikala is my new BFF!

So I get a tweet out of nowhere this morning about 11:21: "Steak sandwich??"

HA!!!  I had to love it.  Mikala, proprietor of one of my "go-to" favorite trucks, Hula Girl, knows which stop I mostly use, what I eat, and how I take it.  Thus the ping.  I told her I'd be there in 10 minutes if she wanted to make it.  Sure enough, it all worked out perfectly.  (Yes, my friends with me did make fun of me.)

Actually, when Mikala sent me the text I explained I would be trying Fojol's new Thai truck for the first time today, but that I did want her sandwich for later.  (Trust me, I've had it cold many times, and it is just as good!!)  Off I went across Farragut Square to the land of Fojol.  At 11:35 they said "we're going to be 15 minutes."  Grrr!  Ok, back to Hula to pick up my sandwich and see what everybody else was getting.  Bottom line is no food was served from Volathai before 11:57.  The guy standing at the window kept saying things like "we have a different model than the other trucks" and "we cook everything once we park".  Fine, so get there earlier....?  Whatever.  It has been a couple of weeks; you're not that new any more, plus, the Fojols definitely know how to run a truck around here.

Anyway, I had a pick 2 with penang chicken and beef drunken noodles.  ($8)  The chicken was juicy, mixed with large chunks of carrot & strips of red bell peppers, and served over basmati rice.  While there were substantially more veggies than chicken, the coconut-curry meal was good: a bit sweet and more spice.  But then there was the drunken noodles.  It contained a large number of vegetables (red & green bell peppers, broccoli, onions, etc) and a little zesty beef, all coupled with wide, fresh rice noodles.  I make Pad Kee Mao for myself all the time, and I know what a challenge it can be to cook the noodles properly, particularly the fresh kind (which these were,) but these were quite mushy.  Based on a review I read of Volathai last week, I expected some really kicked up heat on the palate, but didn't find it particularly fiery, at least not for my taste.  There was one other issue you can learn about if you read my Twitter feed, but I'm not going to memorialize it here.

I haven't been shy about expressing my adoration for the Fojols first two ventures, but this one falls short.  3 honks.

Have a good weekend all!

I'm a dope: Apparently I didn't know what Gumbo was

Last week I made my first return visit to Cajunators since their soft opening at Truckeroo in August.  As each day's menu is posted to Twitter, I've been a bit disappointed I don't recall seeing jambalaya return to the menu since that day because I enjoyed it, evidenced by the 3.5 honks it received.  Figuring an updated review was due, I headed out to find the Cajunators truck when they were nearby and decided to try a couple new-to-me offerings.  First, the fried chicken.  OK, so fried chicken isn't new to me, and I normally go for grilled/griddled or baked/roasted chicken, but this was well seasoned in a flavorful batter and not greasy.  You can select 3 pieces from the usual suspects of thigh, wing, drumstick, breast, with one side for $8.  All-in-all, a tasty-great deal.

And then I thought I should actually get something more cajun than just the seasoning on my fries, and lucky-for-me, the menu offers a side of gumbo for $3.  Perfect, I'll have that!  Now, what's gumbo, because clearly I have no idea?  Actually, other than jambalaya (including one of my favorite dishes to prepare for myself at home, pasta jambalaya,) I haven't personally experienced much in the way of food from the Big Easy.  In my head I had the idea gumbo was kind of like jambalaya but more soup-y.  Apparently I was wrong because when I got back to my office and opened the bag, frankly I was a little scared to see a small cup of a dark sludge-looking concoction.

Once I stirred it around a bit, I found some tender white rice at the bottom.  "OK, I can do this..."  Chicken and andouille, and (as I've now educated myself) probably okra along with other vegetables.  A little spice, a little tang ... The whole thing was altogether delightful, despite an unexpected impression at first gander.  While it wasn't the soup-ish selection I was expecting on a rainy winter day, I'll go back again for more.  Sticking with 3.5 honks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What a difference a month makes

Service is still a little slow, but appears to be slightly more efficient aboard the Kimchi BBQ Taco truck.  They got a cashier which is helping, but the cooking team also looks to be operating much better together.  Plus the horrendous generator noises of their opening days has been somewhat muted.  Today at Farragut Square, they were the only truck with a line; the smell from their truck overwhelmed the air (in a good way) and while I waited, I heard no less than a half dozen folks walk by musing outloud "man, that smells good" as they perused the menu.  And I was convinced without a doubt today my original "tip" to 3.5 (over 3) honks was totally the correct call.

Today I enjoyed a spicy pork kogi.  I previously had bulgogi twice, in two different fashions, and quite liked it.  The pork was rockin' though.  Lean, but juicy.  Flavorful, without being overpowering.  The dumplings are still nothing to write home about, however Kimchi BBQ Taco has enough sauces on the counter now to rival the Sauca trucks in the early days, so you can try doctoring the mandu if you want.  Run, don't walk, next time they hit a street near you.

Spicy Pork Kogi from Kimchi BBQ Taco
You also may have noticed I added a new tabbed page to the top of the blog with just the reviews.  I'm hoping that will make it easier to find the food you want to eat.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 9, 2012

House of Falafel MIGHT be trying harder

While at Farragut today for another very enjoyable lunch from Dorothy Moon, I saw the latest iteration of "renovations" to the House of Falafel truck, a truck constantly trying to find itself.  Still no wrap, but there are a couple real decals depicting the name of the truck, plus notations for both Twitter and a website.  Surprisingly, the Twitter account actually has been up a while at this point, but is barely ever used (no shock there,) and the website link printed on the truck doesn't exist (again, no surprise.)

I still don't get the way the menu is posted... an ongoing problem.  This time it's printed in horrible italic print which is hard to read on its own, but then it's posted on a "noisy" (and ugly early-80s style) background.  With a quick glance, as one might imagine he's still doing Mediterranean food, but with a few mods to the last menu I saw.  (Sorry I didn't snap another pic, but you wouldn't have been able to see it anyway.)

Soon I'll consider another visit to try a shawarma -- it can't be worse than DC Shawarma!

On a totally separate side note, Dorothy Moon's double went up by a buck (DUH!) and a triple was added to the menu.  In addition to my halal effort this weekend, I apparently was in a major cooking mood because I also made two savory jams: a bacon jam and a spicy red onion jam.  I didn't end up making the burger I had planned to put them on (yet) but it hit me like a ton of bricks: wouldn't it be awesome if savory jams became a specialty of Dorothy Moon's burgers?  OMG I'd be doing something really fun in heaven, more than just being there.... :-)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy New Year & Happy Sunday

Happy New Year, folks!  So it's been a few weeks, but I was away for the holidays and returned to only 3 days of work this past week.  I did manage to grab a couple of my favorite lunches this week, from both Goode's and Hula Girl.  But this weekend, as I often find myself craving some of my favorite lunchtime treats when I'm home, I occasionally attempt to re-produce them myself, and this weekend's project, halal!

Now, of course I did not use chicken killed properly or anything, but rather whatever well trimmed, boneless, skinless chicken thighs were at the market.  I found two recipes on the Internet which sounded like they might be close, and luckily both came with a version of the white sauce, so that was attempted too.  In the end, I used combined variations of each of the two recipes, and realized when I am shoveling my favorite halal in to my pie-hole, the flavors have already combined, so it was now hard to think about the separate components uniquely to come up with the proper seasonings.  This was particularly true for the white sauce.  Both white sauce recipes used yogurt and mayo for a base, but they both also called for garlic, which I never recall tasting in the white sauces from HGP/HG or DCK&G.  Anyway, I winged it and used my own cooking skills to come up with the closest I could think was correct.  Just as with the real stuff from the trucks, once combined, (rice, chicken, white & red sauces,) the result of my project was pretty close, although as I went and tasted individually as I was going, I surely had my doubts.

A couple things I know weren't right.  All the halal chicken in DC arrives more orange-y-towards-red than yellowish-towards-brown when coming off the griddle, and I still can't figure out what creates that color.  I used paprika, saffron, a dash of chili powder, and even some hot sauce when cooking, but the turmeric, coriander, and cumin dampened those brighter colors.  Another wrong: one of the recipes also called for a dash of curry (which I didn't think was right) but it was such a small amount, I didn't see it as a big deal.  When it hit the pan though, as you might imagine, the curry smell was pretty powerful.  No big deal for me because I love curry, but I'll definitely leave it out next time and just stick with the little bit of turmeric. 

Anyway, all in all, not a bad first try in my opinion.  Any advice to correct my wrongs would be well appreciated.  Next time I hit a halal truck, I may have to think harder and separately reconsider my spices in anticipation of my next attempt.