Category Archives: Asian or Asian influenced

Hung Phat Curry Puffs

Hung Phat Curry Puffs

Hung Phat Curry Puffs

We use Hung Phat (11315 Fern St.) primarily as a source of limes and back-room Thai food (hello Thai Taste!), but they have other good stuff too: a long row of sauces, spices, and other canned goods from across the Asian spectrum.  Great selection, reasonable prices.  We don’t usually buy meats or non-lime produce there, but they have some of that too.

Not everything is great at Hung Phat.  Their banh mi are subpar (primarily a bread fail) and their prepared food buffet looks suspect to me — it sits there all day, festering in metal trays, and I haven’t dared try any.

But I did dare try the curry puffs the other day, and they’re great! Impossibly flaky on the outside, and an architectural marvel to boot.  The filling is mildly curried, not spicy at all, with potato and onion — and “seasoning sauce” so we don’t really know all what’s in there.  MSG?  Whatever it is, works.  And at $3 for three tennis ball-sized puffs, it’s a good deal too.  I like them for breakfast, because that’s just how I roll, but they also make  a nice appetizer or snack. One more reason to visit Hung Phat.

Asian Cuisine Lightning Round

All in DC, not Wheaton. Sometimes the stomach wanders.

Thai Tanic (1326-A 14th Street) — a  CityPaper/Express reader poll favorite, longtime anchor of the southern end of what is now the hot hot hot 14th Street restaurant corridor.  I had never been here before, despite TT being on the list of punny restaurants to visit (you’re next Thaiphoon!) (maybe…)  Fun decor, lots of golds and woods, a genuine (Americanized) Thai feel.  They offer some unusual menu items other local Thai joints, including Ruan and Nava, don’t, like goong phuket, ground chicken and shrimp in chili sauce, which was unbalanced, too sweet and lacking fire.  Most dishes have multiple peppers  next to their name, signifying heat, but in the end there wasn’t enough for me.  If I’m not sweating, it isn’t Thai-hot enough.  Sodden kra pow with pork wasn’t anywhere close to Nava’s kaprow! league.  Yum nua beef salad was the highlight, living up to its two-menu-peppers with a  tangy, well-balanced lime-based sauce.  Overall okay, total old school compared with all the new restaurants up the street.

Burma (740 6th Street, Chinatown) is on the backside of Verizon Center, next to Kanlaya, up a desolate institutional metal stairwell that reminded my uncle of various Hong Kong dive walkups, so I guess that’s a point for authenticity.  I’ve been to Burma several times, and I think I go back because it is cheap (most entrees $8-11) and filling and you can almost always get right in, which is increasingly difficult at most non-Chinese Chinatown restaurants.  It isn’t the food, which is mediocre at best.  Lots of noodle dishes, some rice, some soup, everything I have tried is underseasoned, bland, and just dumped on the plate sans any artistry whatsoever.  I understand the blanditude may be sort of a hallmark of genuine Burmese cuisine, but…not my thing.  I suspect that in fact it’s just not a great restaurant, probably there is better Burmese food somewhere (maybe not in DC), but it does serve its purpose.

Asia Nine (915 E Street, Penn Quarter), on the other hand, is pretty good.  Been there several times too, always lunch, and the worst dish at AN has been an improvement on anything at Burma.  Menu is a good mix of Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and some fusion.  Curries are only okay — I’ve tried the lemongrass and green, the former is more vividly spiced than the latter — but the Asia Nine lo mein is spicy and fresh-tasting.  Sushi and soups are reportedly good. Portions are large, prices are okay.  Decibels are high, and service can be maddening, both in pace (slow) and accuracy (misdelivered dishes, wrong dishes, missing dishes, having to ask 74 times for water).  But it’s one of the few restaurants near my office in that nice-enough-for-sitdown-lunch-but-not-TOO-nice range — why must everything be either Tosca or Potbelly? — and there is some solid value at Asia Nine.  You just can’t go if you’re in a hurry to get back to work.

Turning Japanese at Woomi Garden

Normally we go to Moby Dick on Triangle Lane for Japanese, and to Woomi Garden (2423 Hickerson) for Korean.  But while MD’s menu has a couple of Korean options (MD is actually owned/run by a Korean family), WG’s menu has as many Japanese items as MD’s, beyond the pages of Korean delicacies.  And this time, with Senior Me in tow, we found ourselves at Woomi but with a Japanese cuisine craving.

Woomi’s Japanese food is good, though I think not as good as their excellent Korean food, and not as good as the best of Moby Dick.  My tonkatsu (pork cutlets) were voluminous — portions at Woomi are generally large — but overcooked.  Senior Me liked his shrimp/veggie tempura assortment, and having tasted a few pieces, I agree it was good, though not as good as the Moby Dick version, which I think has a less greasy, more delicate tempura batter; the WG version was more impressive for its presentation, with the shrimp arranged standing on tails around a tower of fried bean, carrot, onion, squash, and sweet potato, like the shrimp were saying grace before diving in to their meatless feast.  Perhaps to their surprise (?), they were the first to go…

Mrs. Me got some sushi and seemed to like it well enough, but was nonplussed and eventually quite irritated by the nearly 30 minute delay between the arrival of the (main course) tempura and the arrival of her sushi, a wait interpolated about halfway through by my tonkatsu.  We think the kitchen staff were trying to teach her a lesson, in retaliation for her attempt to order the 8-piece sushi assortment on the condition that she be allowed to pick which types of sushi were included.  Sushi chefs like to be dictators, not dictatees.  I understand their perspective, although it’s not like Mrs. Me was trying to order tuna belly or other high-end pieces; she just wanted salmon and regular tuna and yellowtail but no shrimp or scallop or urchin, that kind of thing.  Anyway, it pays to be docile when ordering? Especially since the sushi chef has sharp knives and you probably don’t.  This is why, if you’re the adventurous type, ordering omakase is always a good idea at a sushi joint: it makes the sushi chef feel in control, like the universe is as it should be, and when the sushi chef is happy, you’ll likely be happy too.  The opposite is also true.

Ren’s Ramen Will Open This Wednesday

June 1, starting at 11:30 AM for lunch.   Almost exactly nine months after closing their former Bethesda location.  Can’t wait to try the new Ren’s (11403 Amherst).  And soon we won’t have to wait!

Other notes from today’s traipse around Wheaton:

  • Horrid and paltry lime selection at H Mart, four for a dollar and tiny nasty brown fruit, looked more like walnuts than limes.  Hung Phat’s limes look great but aren’t that juicy (3/$1).   Maybe just a brief setback…
  • Next door to Ren, Ruan’s expansion is complete, the new space has been open nearly two weeks and looks fantastic, though they need to put some art on the walls.  They have at least tripled the available seating.  Food seems as good as ever — more on that in a couple of days. Kaprow!
  • An out-of-town visitor said he thinks he has never had a pupusa — Wheaton is of course a fine place to remedy that.  I first told him there must be at least 9 or 10 pupusa sources in Wheaton, and then I proceeded to count six places just on the single block of Elkin between University and Price. So many pupusas, so little time.

Dick’s Drive-In and Other Seattle Eatin’

This week’s NYT article on sense of place and food — the idea that it is more meaningful to eat, or at least purchase, food at its point of origin rather than by mailorder even though most things are available via FedEx these days — made sense to me. Many local favorites lose a bit of value now that you can get most any product anywhere in the country. Like many people, I still crave certain foods from my younger years; there’s no place like home. Our recent visit to Seattle was, among other things, an opportunity to visit a couple of old favorite restaurants and discover new ones.

I’m not sure a Dick’s Deluxe would taste as good if I didn’t first drive up to the delightfully retro-garish orange-and-white-and-glass box, place my order at the walkup window, wait and watch the perpetually in-the-background burger assembly and potato slicing, and finally walk back to my car with my paper sack full of fabulosity. Visiting Dick’s Drive-In in person and soaking up the atmosphere along with the grease is kind of the main point, beyond burgers. Some people diss Dick’s because you can’t have it your way (no picking and choosing condiments or toppings; they offer four burger options with no micromanaging allowed), but if you’re willing to relax and eat it they way they make it, that’s some mighty fine fast food burger-and-fryage, just as good as it has been for decades and still an excellent value. I had a Deluxe and a cheeseburger, and fries, and a couple of tartar sauces, and yes yes yes.  That should keep me going for a couple more years.

Other Seattle culinary adventures after the jump (sans photos as lamely usual): Continue reading

Bodegas of Wheaton, Part I

In large U.S. cities like New York, you find little bodegas — convenience stores — on almost every block, selling fruits and vegetables, dried goods, newspapers, odds and ends. Wheaton doesn’t have the density (yet!) to support bodegas on residential blocks, but we nevertheless seem able to support quite a few little stores that are scattered throughout the downtown area. I’m actually surprised there are so many, but most of them are tiny, rents must be fairly low, and there are lots of people around of various ethnicities — or broad culinary interest like me — to support them. As high-rise apartment/condos are built, these little shops could really thrive, though I imagine only some will survive.

There are in fact so many bodegas in Wheaton that I am splitting my review of them into two posts, starting with the ones that are not Latino-oriented. Thus, a mix of Asian, African, and American bodegas are discussed below as Part I.

Everybody Hung Phat Tonight

Hung Phat Market

Hung Phat (11315 Fern) — bursting with mostly Thai or Vietnamese goods that threaten to collapse from crowded shelves down upon unsuspecting shoppers; huge, nearly overwhelming selection of sauces, pastes, and spices; lots of dried/frozen/preserved items; back corner is a pile of dishes, pots and random kitchen implements; small but good produce section; not sure I trust their meat; lots of unusual items like pork or beef blood (fresh and frozen!) or sliced fresh taro root. Good source for limes. Friendly staff, I enjoy shopping here.

The Name Does Not Lie

Asian Foods Market

Asian Foods (2301 University) — Less claustrophobic than Hung Phat, better arranged, more multi-Asian, but not as many excitingly unusual finds; still, they have for example dried chrysanthemum, frozen purple yams, and many rice varieties; authentically average Thai street food, mostly fried things and curries/soups, served from steam tables in the East Wing. And they are incorporated!

Shalom Strictly Kosher

Shalom Strictly Kosher

Shalom Strictly Kosher (2307 University) — Shalom is our go-to source for challah bread (great for French toast — does that make it Israeli toast?); big deli section with all kinds of salads, pastrami and other meats, sandwiches assembled to order; chubbs, whitefish, herring, the usual mix; acceptably good knishes (I am very picky about knishes); lots of meats and dried goods; excellent bakery; everything indeed seems to be strictly kosher; meat looks to be excellent quality and is kind of expensive — I suppose rabbinical supervision does not come cheap. Overall a useful, unique part of Wheaton’s food scene. Max’s Kosher Deli, also good, is next door.

Dessie

Dessie Ethiopian Restaurant and Market

Dessie Ethiopian Restaurant and Market (2655 University, next to Nick’s Diner) — the market is about a third of the space, and bare bones, just a few shelves of injera, unlabeled spices, grains, and a few other items; the restaurant section is bigger but still small, lots of green, a tiny three or four seat bar with a television; I look forward to trying it one of these days (Mrs. Me is not an enthusiastic consumer of Ethiopian food; I’m not crazy about injera but I love the meat and veggie dishes). Not sure I will ever have occasion to shop at the market.

Ethiopia Plus Market

Ethiopia Plus Market

Ethiopia Plus  Market (11303 Georgia) — looks a lot like the market third of Dessie inside, slightly more shelf space but not much difference in contents; with no inviting restaurant included, I am likely to stick with Caramelo Bakery next door when I find myself on this block of Georgia.

Filipino Home Baking & Grocery Store (11222 Triangle Lane, next to Moby Dick) (forgot to take a photo) — I know essentially nothing about Filipino culture but this store does a good job of providing the basics, I would imagine; lots of baked goods, preserved fruit, many varieties of fish in cans, especially competing brands of sardines; freezers full of fish, veggies, and lumpia, the Philippines’ answer to the spring roll. Also some CDs and Filipino accoutrements. Friendly staff.

Amherst 7-Eleven

Old Tired Amherst 7-Eleven

7-Eleven (11445 Amherst, next to Wheaton Post Office; 11406D Georgia) — possibly you are already familiar with these quintessentially American bodegas — although Japan has more of them than does the United States. Slurpee! Sometimes we go here for emergency milk or ice (or Big Gulps), especially now that our Safeway is a Zombie.

New 7-Eleven

Shiny Newish Georgia 7-Eleven

Coming soon: Bodegas of Wheaton, Part II: Los Mercados Latinos

Wheaton Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese in a Nutshell

Previous nutshells on Chinese and Thai.  Just quick rundowns to help keep track of what’s out there, where I’ve been, where to return and where to try.

Moby Dick (11220 Triangle) – Korean-run sushi hole-in-wall, tiny, nice rustic Japanese feel to the room, always friendly service; sushi is fine, miso soup is fine, tempura is above-average; prices seem standard for sushi restaurants. Food is solid, the folks who run the place are great, we like Moby.

Dae Sung Kwan (11215 Viers Mill) – we have never eaten here.

Woomi Garden (2423 Hickerson) – bigger inside than it looks from outside, replete with fountain in foyer and interesting wood throughout; service can be uneven (allegedly helps if you speak Korean!); five or so panchan are good, though they don’t cover the entire table as at some Korean places; bibimbap okay but various bbq, dumplings, stir-fried octopus excellent; also full Japanese/sushi menu sections; food generally very good and would fit in just fine in Annandale – Woomi is arguably the best Korean restaurant in MoCo.

Pho Hiep Hoa (2211 University) – bare-bones cafeteria ambience (or lack thereof), opposite of Woomi in that it seems cavernous but really isn’t that big; pho is decent and inexpensive, with the usual goody bag of greens, peppers, and sauce add-ins; I think they have a few rice dishes too; Mrs. Me always orders white-meat-chicken-only pho and most of the time gets what she asked for. Anchors one end of the vaunted PHH-Full Key-Asian Foods-Shalom Kosher Grocery-Max’s Kosher Deli stripmall.

Saigonese (11232 Grandview) – hadn’t been here for years but after excellent experiences at the Taste of Wheaton (mmm, grilled pork skewer…) and with the banh mi, we look forward to further exploring their enormous menu of Vietnamese food.

Other random Asian food outlets lurk in the Wheaton Mall: explore at your own risk.

That’s one from each category so far that we really need to get back to after a couple of years of neglect: Saigonese, Hollywood East, and Dusit.