Monday, January 6, 2014

DC Foodventures: Day 1

I have a week of vacation between jobs and I'm using it to get to know DC a bit better, culinarily. This means a lot of lunch excursions (by public transit) and trips to ethnic supermarkets around the district, MD, and VA. As a jumping off point, I've started with Tyler Cowen's list of his "current favorite" restaurants in his ethnic dining guide. Today I took a trip up to Rockville, MD for lunch and a few groceries.

I hit up two Rockville restaurants from Mr. Cowen's list. I can't purport to write any kind of restaurant reviews — since I went by myself I only got to try a few dishes — but I can describe what I ate. First I walked from the metro up to Bob's Shanghai 66. I'd heard the soup dumplings were great, and I had a hankering. The restaurant had a pretty good crowd at 2pm on a Monday. I got seated right next to the semi-open kitchen. Some cooks were rolling, stuffing, and forming dumplings at a glassed in counter.

It was a joy to watch them, although I did feel like a schmuck taking pictures with my two-week-old smartphone (a month ago I smugly looked down on those restaurant instagramers, and now I've joined them). I ordered the crab and pork soup dumplings and fried turnip balls which I've had before in NYC and love. The turnip balls were tragically weekend-only (as was the watermelon juice I tried to order — I ended up with a "lemon tea" which was basically too-sweet lemonade), so I asked for the dumplings that I was witnessing in their nascency. They ended up being fried "house special pork".

Both dumplings were good. The fried pork dumplings tasted fresh; pleasantly chewy like fresh pasta, and the good kind of greasy — slicked in a layer of hot oil, not soaked in reheated grease. The filling was tasty but nondescript. The soup dumplings were nice too.

Not the best I've ever had, but a silky soft dough with a fishy tasting broth full of bits of meat as well as egg drops which added a great texture.

Next I headed across the street to Kam Sam Supermarket. I wandered around, digesting, and picked up a few items. $5 worth of $80/pound dried scallops (about 7 scallops) for pho broth, a bottle of passionfruit concentrate because I always buy new passionfruit-flavored-anything for sampling (it's my girlfriend's absolute favorite flavor. This stuff ended up being too sweet, as per usual), and some cane vinegar. I just got Hugh Acheson's A New Turn in the South as a Christmas present, and he calls for cane vinegar in a few recipes. I actually couldn't find it at first, in the vinegar section. I asked a few employees but we were having trouble bridging the language gap — they vaguely suggested I check the vinegars in aisle four. A stroke of modernity led me to pull out my brand new pocket-computer once more. I pulled up a picture on Amazon and the employee's understanding clicked right away — "oh, aisle two, first section, on the left." It ended up being in the Indonesian section. Praise be technology.

I wasn't exactly hungry, but didn't want to leave Maryland without trying another restaurant. I headed to East Dumpling House. A bit closer to town center, and a bit more American feeling (fewer Chinese characters on the menu, for example). I ordered some pork and dill dumplings. Twelve steamed white packages of joy came a few minutes later.

I liked these dumplings even better than my first two plates. They were packed with dill but still had a distinctly porky flavor. While they each contained a big chunk of filling, there was also a nice teaspoon or so of hot, dilly, porky broth inside each dumpling. Fantastic on a cold day. They actually reminded me a lot of similar dumplings at the superb Mother's Dumplings in Toronto.

When I got home it ended up that I had picked the wrong cane vinegar — there were two bottles at the store, and Mr. Acheson suggests in his book buying the one I passed over. Since I didn't love the flavor of the vinegar I ended up with (it doesn't have the strong malty, nutty notes described in the cookbook), I might be making a second trip to Rockville this week. There's a Latin Market I missed on this trip too, and, for once, I've got plenty of time on my hands.