Monday, April 30, 2012

The VA in the DC!

A private parking lot at National Geographic allowed a couple of Virginia trucks to venture in to the District today: Lemongrass Truck and Doug the Food Dude.  Lucky for me, NatGeo is close enough to my office so I could grab a bite from both.  First up was Doug for a Caribbean Pork over Cabana rice:

Three things struck me right off the bat with is this truck:
  1. there doesn't appear to be a window which physically opens to know whether or not they're serving, (no biggie)
  2. the length far surpasses what's allowed in DC, so I'm not expecting to see them around much except for private events/locations, (too bad) and
  3. the smell coming from the door was insane.
My order was served almost immediately, with an initial reaction of "holy crap that's a lot of rice!"  Beneath the rice I found a thin layer of chopped lettuce and on top there was a mound of finely shredded pork.  I was totally prepared to say this dish needs substantially more pork, particularly at $9, but I did find two pretty good sized pieces a little buried in the rice -- still a wildly disproportionate small quantity compared to the rice, but not nearly as overpriced as I thought it might be.  Having said that, I'd love more of pineapple-mango sauce; I know in the photo it looks like a lot, but once you dig-in, it diminishes quickly.  

So what about the food?  The pork was tender with a gentle spice while the fluffy rice kicked up the heat a tad.  Both complemented the amazing sauce perfectly.  I didn't love the lettuce on the bottom, however, as most of the tender pieces just cooked under all the steaming rice, making for brown, unappetizing leaves.  I'd go back without hesitation and ask for no greens.  3.5 honks.

When Lemongrass was first announced, Food Truck Fiesta suggested this would be a VA & DC truck, and I've been anxiously waiting for a regular DC schedule.  Except for the 2nd Uncurbed, I believe today was the first regular service this side of the Potomac.
Lemongrass' menu offers three proteins with accoutrements in one of 4 forms: in a baguette as a banh mi, in flour tortillas for tacos, on top of thin rice noodles, or on top of greens as a salad.  I flirted with the vermicelli but decided on the salad instead as I gazed at the more than-enough-rice-product I has already been served from Doug.
While the chicken looked flaccid (see pic,) the bigger surprise when I actually began to eat was that it was cold.  I wouldn't have imagined both hot & cold versions of the same item on a truck for different formats, but ok, maybe Lemongrass does exactly that; I will say, if I were to have ordered the tacos and this is what arrived, I would have been terribly disappointed. 

Getting over the look and temperature of the meat, the lemongrass flavor the chicken embodied was acceptable, and the portion of meat was certainly generous at $8 for the large salad.  Other actors in this plate were about what you'd expect: picked veg, cucumber, and green leaf lettuce, plus cilantro.  (Personally I'd love more of the herb, but I may be in the minority on that one.)  With a little sweet, a little tart, and a little tang, the best part was definitely the homemade lemongrass dressing -- I'd pay good money for a bottle of that!!  3 honks, but I'll revisit when DC becomes a regular stop, if for no other reason but that dressing.

UPDATE:  Lemongrass reports the chicken should have been warm.  Many thanks for the clarification, the super-fast response, and the awesome customer service!  I'll be making a prompt visit next time they're back in Washington.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More than just pizza at Pi

The folks over at Pi have been serving wings for a while now, but I had completely forgotten so when I returned earlier after a (too) long while, I was excited to give them a try.  Plump and juicy, these wings aren't served doused in sauce.  They're baked with a distinct, flavorful, not too spicy dry-rub (and, I'm guessing, olive oil to make a marinade.)  While ranch or blue cheese dressings were both offered, I opted for the later, which was obviously housemade and delicious, although not chunky like one might think of traditionally.  $10 for 10, or $5 for 5 with a pizza.  
With Austin Grill's truck ka-put, it's my best recollection is the only other truck serving wings these days is Tasty Fried; I'll take these over Tasty's any time. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Eat Street Blog

The woman who coordinates the blog for Eat Street, the program dedicated to US & Canadian food trucks on the Cooking Channel, suggested a theme this week of "What's the best thing you ever ate from a truck?"  When you love as many trucks as I do (and think so highly of so many owners,) it really is a daunting task to limit it to only one thing.  And, while I called out Chef Driven in my contributing post, I wanted to make it a point to name a few other honorable mentions in it as well.

One of the suggested items comes from a truck that was off the road making repairs for nearly four months, but alas has come back to me!  The adorable boys from Goode's Mobile Kitchen graced the West End today, allowing for a long-craved jerk chicken cheesesteak.

My love for this sandwich is well documented, but I wanted to welcome them back in to the fold after hiatus.  Thanks for my sub, gentlemen.

Check out the Eat Street blog post for a few more, but by no means all, of my favorites.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fatter & now wetter in the rain, but still Happy

Another (sorta) marathon day, or at least it feels like it.  So far, I have only tackled two trucks, although Stella's PopKern is still on my radar for a bit later for what has become my regular Wednesday large basil & Thai ginger popcorn.  (It will last through Friday...)  For a couple of reasons, I made the extended hike back over to Franklin Square today for the (expected) new menu's from Chef Driven and Cirque Cuisine.  I've said it twice already, and now with multiple visits to both, I continued to be delighted with the lively and frequently changing offerings from Chefs Jerry and Jessica.

First stop was to Chef Driven for steak frites and a side of Panang curry stew.  For $13, I received a huge portion of juicy, cooked-to-order skirt steak, offered with a choice of chimichurri or au poivre sauces, a generous serving of fresh cut truffle fries, plus a micro-green and bibb lettuce salad.  My steak was perfectly cooked medium-rare and paired perfectly with the garlic in the sauce and the earthiness of the potatoes.  Luckily, Jerry picked up on my cues from last week and now has knives and uses containers with lids ... particularly welcome today in the spit of the rain. 
The stew ($6) was more st-oup-y than stew-y for me, with a thin (soup-like), slightly tart coconut broth, made in to stew with jasmine rice, bamboo shoots, roasted grape tomatoes, and baby corn.  It was topped with the "signature tendrils" of carrots and beets, plus fresh tender stalks of green onion.  Personally, I wouldn't be scared off by a little more "Panang heat," but the comfort-factor was well suited for the chill and dampness in the air today.  Three visits in just over a week, and haven't had the same thing twice, so with food this good, it's tough to go wrong with Chef Driven; go order anything.

My other new favorite truck also happened to be visiting Franklin today with their latest menu of open-faced sandwiches, a tart, and 3 salads. 
Wanting to try something else new from them too, I landed on the croque monsieur highlighted by prosciutto in lieu of ham.  When I asked for more protein than just the finely sliced goodness of Italian meat, Chef Jessica offered a side of the quinoa salad.  Love that idea!

While a traditional croque monsieur is a basically hot ham and cheese, the change in pork and general configuration, as well as the additions of apples, creamy onions and greens, kicked this crunchy stack of deliciousness to another category.  If it was the only thing I ate for lunch (which it clearly isn't) I might still be hungry as it was pretty light, but I wouldn't be disappointed.  So what would I recommend as an accompaniment?  It did come with (obviously house-made) radish chips, but I liked Jessica's suggestion better: the hearty yet still delicate quinoa salad.  It had nice bright flavor complemented by the coconut-lime dressing, mustard seeds, pine nuts, and green onions.  It wasn't quite Tapas Truck quinoa salad, but this one is a very close second and is probably healthier for me.  She even put a pretty little edible flower in the box, but somehow I was having brain-farts when I took the photo because that's the only corner that's cut off.
To round out my tasting at Cirque Cuisine, I tried the latest flavor of aqua fresca, and this one was right up my alley.  Pineapple, lime, and mint.  "Fresca!"  I might have to order a gallon for my next party to pair with some rum.

In a separate note, I hit DC Slices again yesterday and grabbed a slice of pizza.  I am very happy to say it seems to me the crust is thinner and therefore somewhat crispier than the last several times I had it.  Granted, it has been a while, but part of the reason the pizza was lower on my radar is because I remembered it being thicker, and thus heavier.  I enjoyed yesterday far more than other visits, and will be back again soon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another winner!

With a delicious sounding menu promised from Chef Driven today via Twitter, I took advantage of the nice day and made the extra walk down to Franklin Square to try out a couple main courses.  Two soups were available, including the one I reviewed previously, along with the lemongrass beef salad from last week's menu and a risotto.  Being unable to decide between the salad and the rice, I went with both.  (Totally unlike me, right??  Two meals?  Heh.)

Starting with the salad, it was a bright blend of bibb lettuce, cellophane noodles, fresh herbs, cucumbers, lime wedges, and scallions topped with 2 cooked-to-order skewers of steak and Jerry's "signature" carrot & beet spaghetti.  (I don't know if that's really his signature thing, but I've had three things and I've had pretty tendrils three times.)  It all paired perfectly with the light flavored, slightly tart dressing.  I particularly enjoyed the whole pieces of mint which added a clean pop of zing when I caught one on my fork, without being overpowering.  There are a few salads I'd be happy to have just about any time, and this can easily be added to that list.

When it came to the risotto, it looked like shrimp and grits (of the polenta variety) which I've often found to be on the sweet side of things.  Alas this was surely risotto and the sweetest things in the blend were the plentiful shrimp.  Other than that it was quite a savory dish with creamy and rich arborio, obviously a lot of saffron given the color, briny black olives, and lardons of bacon.  It was delicious, but I'm not sure I'd order it on a day much warmer than today (~65*?) as it might be a little heavy.  While I quite enjoyed it, I could stand for a tad less salt given the seasoning olives and bacon provide.

I (am hoping and) expect the menu to change pretty frequently, which will equate to a frequent customer in me.  So far I'm really impressed.  Hopefully the couple of glitches in occasional slowness will quickly improve as the team gets the hang of things.  4 honks.  A few constructive thoughts:

1. You need knives.
2. A lot of people who eat from trucks, myself included, often take their meals back to the office, so I'd highly recommend packaging which allows the food to be covered.  I know you were using saran wrap to cover things, but that can be cumbersome and definitely slowed things down at the window.  Early on Fojol had open containers with a box of aluminum foil available on the side if you wanted to cover it, but they learned and changed to use something that closes.
3. My friend and I agreed we would be happy to spend an extra couple of bucks for another skewer of beef -- maybe give an option...?

I really am very excited at the fresh new prospects in this truck, and Cirque Cuisine.  Go Jerry & Jessica!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bayou Bros

Earlier today I made my inaugural visit to Bayou Brothers after a missed attempt last week. Their initial menu is made up of several po-boy sandwiches (including soft-shell crab and alligator) and jambalaya. Last week, during an uncharacteristically late lunch for me, I went and checked out the menu for the first time and was unexcited to see the po-boy subs only were stacked with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mayo, whereas I otherwise was expecting something more kicked up in the dressing department. I would have gotten a soft-shell crab sandwich, but plain old mayo really turned me off, and the jambalaya was sold out. Another time .... Later that day I tweeted suggesting the need for a more interesting condiment.

Less than a week later, I was pleasantly surprised to see mayo was gone and remoulade was in! I'll take that soft-shell crab po-boy now, please! The good: the bread was fresh, light, and well suited for the sandwich, and the sliced pickles added nice crunch. The not-so-good: the batter used on the crabs wasn't very interesting, and I would hardly call the remoulade anything more than a lightly seasoned mayo...!  Gimme that with some whole grain mustard, more herbs and spices, something tart, and some heat.

At $14, the sub (+Lays chips) is the same price as the last time DCers had soft-shells being served from a truck, but the earlier one was executed substantially better and came with a high-end side. The folks running around in a sweet update to the retired Eat Wonky truck are still quite new, but don't (yet?) compare to Cajunators. 3 honks at the moment, but I'll check it out again in a month or two.

In a follow-up to Friday's post, over the weekend I was finally un-full enough (after that marathon eat-fest at Farragut Friday) to heat up and enjoy the Brazilian tomato soup from newcomer Chef Driven.  It was creamy, rich, and light all at the same time.  Totally delightful and I can't wait to try a full meal from this sweetheart trio of gentlemen.  A little birdy told me the destination and menu for Tuesday, and I think I may actually have to make the extra hike to go grab some saffron scented shrimp risotto with roasted tomatoes, bacon, and olives.  Whoa!  Rating will come when I am able to catch up with them again.

Finally, I don't think I mentioned it previously, but hopefully folks caught my premiere blog post as a contributing blogger for the Cooking Channel's Eat Street program, which airs in the US and Canada.  Next post in progress....  Stay tuned.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fat n' Happy

I hit a personal record 5 food trucks today around Farragut Square today, and needless to say, "I'm STUFFED!"  First up was to see my friend Alex at Far East Taco grill, because he was open early and I hadn't caught up with him in a while, so I grabbed a couple of tacos to eat while I waited in several other lines.  No need to review his food because I say all the time how much I love it.  Then I my first visit to the new-ish truck Cirque Cuisine. While the menu changes all the time, today's offerings really reminded me of Jorge Pimentel's retired truck Sabor'a Street which truly used to be one of my very favorite trucks, mostly because the menu changed all the time and it was always high quality and very fresh.

So now Cirque Cuisine is making a go for some similar traits in the frequency of menu changes.  However, based on a few of the menus I've seen posted from them, I don't think they are limiting themselves to Latin flavors, despite what today's menu looked like.  I went for the banana leaf wrapped fish and almost felt like Chef Jessica was embodying Chef Jorge.  The fish was perfectly moist topped with an incredible pineapple (and more) tropical salsa, and served over fluffy coconut rice.  And, while the fish was awesome, the sweet but slightly salted plantains were just insane.  They melted in my mouth.  Cirque Cuisine can be found under 4 honks.

Next.  Yesterday Borinquen Lunch Box tweeted to "Chef Driven" something to the effect of "nice to meet you today and good luck" so I asked, "Who's Chef Driven?"  (More on that later, but) during the brief Twitter discussion, Enrique informed me they would have crab empanadas on the menu for today.  Of course that meant I had to therefore make a stop at his truck today.  I found them to be light and crispy with an appropriate blend of flavorful crab meat and red peppers. 

After a quick stop to grab some sweet potato tots from DC Slices for afternoon noshing, (woot ... they're back...!) I started heading back to my office and stumbled upon, none other than, Chef Driven!  He was parked off the Square and looked pretty lonely compared to all the activity only a couple hundred feet away.

After a gander at the menu and a quick chat with the owners to explain I actually knew who they were because of my random Twitter conversation yesterday, I further explained I had already stuffed myself silly.

Totally appreciating my dilemma (although having zero idea I would be blogging about them later,) they offered a sample.  OMG!  Look what I was handed a minute later:

It's beautiful!  And ridiculously good.  Typically I don't care for tomato soup unless something else is going on with it (like beans, pasta, etc,) and this Brazilian variety totally satisfied.  I've only had a couple of spoonfuls so far, but will totally devour the tomato-coconut-rice concoction later.  With only a taste, I don't feel right awarding a rating, but I'm feeling like this will be a 4 honker.  I anxiously await the next visit to anywhere in a 4-block radius of 19th & I so I can chow down on a whole meal.  (HINT, HINT!)

Earlier this week, I made a return to Flavors of India where my biggest complaint after my first visit was with the naan; it was much improved this time, and I continue to be happy with what is being served off the white bus.  I also caught Pepe for a second try, and while I of course HAD to get the IbĂ©rico again, I figured I should try something else too.  The Butifarra "Burger" would earn 3.5 honks on its own (but average 4 & 3.5, you still get 4) for the combination of aioli and "brava" sauce -- A party!  And a nice complement to the juicy, uncased, flat sausage.
Happy Easter everyone!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mojo wins with Tapas

To date I still haven't been to the Mojo truck as the 'Chivitos' don't appeal to me personally, but last Friday the same team of people officially launched a second truck, this time with a tapas concept.  At the moment, they offer 4 savory options (2 for $8 or 3 for $9,) plus flan for dessert ($3.)  All tapas plates are served with potatoes provencal, a.k.a. seasoned french fries.  The result is $9 will get you a ton of food.

Starting at 12-o'clock, we have spicy, garlic sauteed shrimp over a piece of french bread.  Of the three tapas today, this was by far my favorite as a whole, and to me was the most appropriate tapa "size".  It is just as it sounds, but the juice from the saute pan get soaked up deliciously by the bread when the small shrimp are poured over for serving.  

Next I had the sausage shown on the left which, billed as chorizo, didn't come off that way.  I was expecting some good heat but this was quite mild.  As far as format is concerned, I had Jaleo's chorizo tapas in my head, which has 5 little sausages, about the size and shape of Vienna Sausages (not taste or texture, obviously.)  Thus, my (unfair) expectation was different than what I received, yet I personally wouldn't call a single, large link like this a tapa.  Having said all that, the quinoa salad it was served on with dried cranberries, lentils, herbs and more was the single best thing on the plate -- I'd order a bowl of that on it's own.

Finally, the potato croquette, stuffed with (a little) bacon and provolone cheese...  Despite being creamy, well flavored, and perfectly fried, it was dry.  I found myself trying to rub each bite in the well of the container which held the shrimp for a little moisture.  It would be well suited to be served with some sort of sauce.

Tapas Truck is serving something different than what other trucks presently offer, and notwithstanding the fact it is served in a styrofoam container, there is a pleasant, slightly more "refined" feel to the plate.  3.5 honks.