Where to Eat in Damascus

I’ve been dying to post this for ages but I was waiting to pull some pictures from my trip to Damascus off my old camera. Sadly, they are gone.  All but 3 of them. I have no idea what happened. It’s really too bad because I had some great pictures of the wonderful food at Narenj in the Old City.  Anyway, if you go to Damascus eat there.  It’s much nicer than this alley in the souk.

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Great hummus and wonderful kabobs and rice.  Also, a number of decent vegetarian options.

 

Other tips:

 

1. Splurge and stay at the Four Seasons. It’s clean and safe and not nearly as expensive as it tends to be in other locales.
2. Take cash if you’re American.  The ATMs don’t seem to like US cards which can get tricky.
Also, Check out the Azem Palace.

 

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Jaleo Plus More DC Rants and Raves

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So despite my recent grumbling I actually do like a number of restaurants in DC.  In particular Jose Andres’ tapas restaurant Jaleo. The attached pictures are from a recent brunch which included a refreshing sherry and citrus soda cocktail (who knew?), some of the best rice I’ve ever had (notice the fried egg on top) and some smoky meaty lamb chops.

 

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Another good experience recently has been Mr. Henry’s Victorian Pub.  The servers were nice (and while a number of things on other tables didn’t look awesome) the patty melt on rye was superb. I mean really great.  Perfectly cooked and beefy meat on toasty rye bread with a side of home made chips … bliss. I’m almost scared to go back in case it isn’t as good next time.

And finally, Ezme in Dupont Circle. Turkish tapas in a trendy area seem like they might go awry.  They didn’t.  We mainly stuck with red meat which seems to be the way to go since all the kabobs and the gyro meat were tender and flavorful.  Good service and the charming atmosphere didn’t hurt either. We finished with some baklava which was not too sweet and super flaky. The menu advertised Kanafeh which we hadn’t had since Istanbul. However, much to the consternation of the Bob they were out.  That’s ok, we’re sure to go back. 

But it can’t all be good. Belga Cafe (mentioned in the Capitol Hill post) was a serious disappointment on a recent visit. The food was still pretty good  (though my poached eggs were woefully undercooked) but the service was atrocious. Terrible. Awful. I get that this is a busy and popular spot.  However,  I expect not to have to wait outside in the cold for 30 minutes when I have a reservation. I expect that when the chef himself jostles my chair to carry another chair over my head while I’m eating he won’t knock my bag off said chair. I expect that if he does he might bother to pick it up.  I expect that if I don’t notice the manager won’t then come by a few minutes later,step on it, and then tell me it’s in his way. I expect that once I wait that long, I won’t feel rushed out the door.  I know summer is coming and it’s only going to get busier so these guys don’t really care but I think I’m going to be staying away from Belga for a bit.

 

Second, a Rant and Thoughts on the New ‘hood

These are NOT fish and chips. These are breaded fish fingers. Do not call them fish and chips on your menu because when I order fish and chips and get this it makes me want to cry or engage in acts of violence.

On to the new neighborhood.  The Bob and I moved about 2 months ago and it took us a VERY long time to get the kitchen unpacked. Thus we’ve eaten at about 70% of the restaurants in the Eastern Market area. Here’s a brief run down without pictures. Hopefully more in depth posts on some of these will come soon.

Mi Vecinidad: A mix of Cuban and Mexican. Always a reason to be skeptical, very skeptical.  The menu is too big and a number of the options fall flat.  However, Mi Vecinidad has the best yucca fritta I’ve had in years so that in itself is reason enough to visit regularly. Also great black beans and rice, good roasted chicken (if you get the onions on the side to avoid making the skin soggy), tasty carne asada tacos and nachos and satisfying (if a bit salty) tortilla soup.  The free shot of tequila at the end of dinner never goes amiss either.

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Ted’s Bulletin: Responsible for the fish that inspired this post. The menu is built around American staples and the food is decidedly ok.  That’s it.  Just ok.  I can’t think of anything I’ve eaten at Ted’s that I loved. Some things, such as the fish have been very disappointing.  Others, like a Ruben sandwich on rye, fairly good. The Bob reports that the short rib sandwich was excellent and I had really good smoked and roasted chicken with mac and cheese once.  The problem was the next 3 times I ordered it the skin wasn’t crisp … and without crisp skin what’s the point of roasted chicken.  Ted’s has a really cute vibe and a good bar.  It’s always packed to the gills so I guess they are doing something right.  But for a place with so much potential it fails to deliver more often than it should.

Matchbox: Matchbox gets really mixed reviews.  I’m in the fan camp.  The food isn’t life changing but it’s always pretty good. The pizzas are decent, the shrimp and grits are great, the french toast is heavenly and the pecan pie desert is actually addictive.  There are, however, a number of less pleasing options (calamari salad, the baked egg options on the brunch menu and any pizza with chicken on it).  Overall, it’s a great place to sidle up to the bar at brunch (free newspapers, lively atmosphere and awesome bar tenders) or grab dinner on the way home from work.

Belga Cafe: For some reason I can never remember what I eat here, but it’s always pretty good.  The prices are higher than the other area restaurants, but the atmosphere and menu are far more sophisticated.

Banana Cafe: Best. Piano. Bar. Ever. It’s wonderful how everyone from the neighborhood from 65 year old couples on dates to hipsters to interns seems to like this bar. That’s because it’s fantastic. Go. Actually, maybe don’t. I hate waiting in line for drinks. Even as reasonably priced as they are at BC.

Chesapeake Room:  I’ve only been for brunch. The shrimp and grits are pretty good and dining companions have reported enjoying what they’ve eaten. But my general feeling is that the food is pretty mediocre.  The brunch menu is fairly limited and there have been a couple of serious flaws with what I’ve ordered. Soft scrambled does not mean cooked to the point of browning. House made pork sausage should not be so dry that it tastes like turkey. If an egg dish comes with fruit and I order poached eggs please put them in another dish.  Egg yolk covered grapes are not tasty. It’s too bad because the space is great but when I end up here it’s usually because the wait is too long everywhere else.

DC-3: All hot dogs all the time. All really good hot dogs all the time. Get a jumbo, order it camp-fired (and make sure to stress that – so they actually do it), put it on a buttered bun and you’re pretty much set. Lot’s of creative options as well … but really I can’t even bring myself to order anything else. Though I’m curious to try the kimchi dog.

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Trattoria Alberto: I heard bad things. The reviews said bad things. But nobody else could seat us. What a happy little stroke of luck.  Good pasta dishes, great chicken parmesan, yummy garlic bread and decadent creamy tiramisu.  It’s old school American Italian food done pretty well in a pretty charming setting. We’ve only been once so maybe we got lucky but we will be going back again for sure. Extra points for the adorable waiter.

Ba Bay: I’ve only been once for lunch, but I think this is the most exciting menu in the area. I started with an excellent (and large) purple cabbage salad. Crisp, dressed with just the right amount of tangy fish sauce and topped with crunchy peanuts. Simple but excellent. The  papa weavers pork chop with pickled carrots-bean sprouts and spicy pork sauce was under seasoned and underwhelming.  Even so, the menu looks so good and it’s such a nice change from the rest of the “American” food places in the area that I’m looking forward to going back.

Tunnicliffs: Great neighborhood bar. Right near Eastern Market.  And they make a surprisingly good Gyro.  It’s just normal bar food but I love the atmosphere. Full of local regulars and friendly service.

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Overall though, I think the NYT is right.  I know this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/08/dining/08junk.html)  pissed off about 90% of DC residents.  But it’s basically correct.  There aren’t many healthy or varied options in the area. I would kill for some decent sushi or Korean or Iranian or Chinese food (Old Siam and Capitol Hill Tandoor fail to deliver what I need. Though Cafe 8 is pretty decent). My overall feeling about the restaurants in the area is that they are all passable, but I have yet to go to one that I think is truly great. I’m sure I will continue to frequent all of the neighborhood spots because walking to dinner is easy and awesome, but I can’t help but feel like with so many places nearby at least a few should be excellent.

Ok I think that’s it for now, but maybe in another installment we can talk about Old Siam, Zest, Acqua Al 2, Montmartre, Cafe 8, Good Stuff Eatery and the newly discovered Li’l Pub.