after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Dinner #2/20: Kitsuen (& More!)

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t says: We were on fire this weekend! We did a dinner out and a brunch the following morning (although we did bring p with us to brunch).

January 2020, Saturday Dinner. g and I love ramen. And while we were slated to head out to a fine dining establishment somewhere in DC (we’re going to save that one for later), we had a last minute change of plans. Instead, g and I ventured out, sans reservation, to the hip, hot new restuarant/bar Kitsuen. We sauntered in at 7:20pm, and were seated by 7:30 – not bad for a place with some buzz. I will say, however, that starting at 7:45, there were now crowds of folks waiting to be seated. Glad we got there early.

Kitsuen, from what I gather, is more lounge/bar, “but with good food”. But they only have one bar … and they serve ramen at that bar, so it’s being taken up by people eating … so it’s not “really” a bar you can walk up to and grab a drink at. So I’m confused. Maybe they’re still working out the kinks …

It didn’t matter: we were there for the ramen. But I have no pictures of the ramen? Goshdarnit, I forgot, again! Just imagine the standard bowls of ramen everywhere else on this blog and you get the idea. Here’s one:

This is NOT the ramen at Kitsuen …

g ventured the Hakata Tonkotsu, and I went for the Tokyo Shoyu. I’m going to cut to the chase: Toki Underground does it better. There’s a lot that is done correctly at Kitsuen. They used the appropriate shaped noodle for each bowl (the tonkotsu had straight, thin noodles, while the shoyu had some wave to them). The additions were standard. The broth was fine. But nothing really hit you in the mouth. g called it “balanced”. I call it “toned down”. The shoyu was missing out on the deep salty/savory backdrop. The pork chashu lacked the porky salty-sweet that I expected. The addition of the grisel of beef was pointless (it reminds me of how my mom adds a bit of bulgogi to wonton soup – it’s more for the soup’s flavor than for the experience of actually eating the meat, itself). Meanwhile, g’s tonkotsu was … inoffensive. Absent was the creamy/fatty goodness I had hoped for. I thought the noodles could have been a touch firmer. In the end, I think both broths were missing out on another several hours of reduction/concentration, as they had the mouth presence of a chicken noodle soup moreso than a hearty bowl of ramen that a Japanese chef toiled over for hours out of the day. Oh – and neither noodle had that alkaline twang to them – they could have been a standard pasta noodle in terms of flavor.

As for the rest: the karaage was tasty (reminding us of Popeye’s – and what’s wrong with that?) The octopus takoyaki balls were fun, but could have used a bit more octopus. The sake was refreshing and reasonably priced.

So was the meal a failure? Absolutely not. It was fun! We people-watched, reminisced over our previous ramen adventures, joked about how the server had told us they had Japanese wines (they pulled out a bottle of Sonoma chardonnay). It was worth the trip to see if Kitsuen was our speed (it wasn’t – we’re too old). Hopefully, as more people hit up Kitsuen, it’ll free up some space for Toki down the street (where we can engage in a discussion on whether their interpretation of tsukemmen is delicious or improperly constructed or both!)

But the night was not over! On the way back home, we came across Dangerously Delicious Pies. And this time, there is a picture!

Dangerously Delicious Pies

Now this was a place that really struck a chord with us. The theme, itself, is kind of silly: “a bunch of pies”. Hell – “Peasant Pies” in SF had the same theme, and we can agree that that place wasn’t good at all. However, this place was far more legit. All kinds of pies. Whole pies (not personal/hand pies). All right there. In a dive bar setting. With a music venue upstairs. And that key lime pie was delicious! (The other one was the Elvis: banana, PB, bacon was also good.) In this moment, we felt we finally hit upon someplace with a genuine feel. No million-dollar backer, no celebrity chef, no care to create a seen-and-be-seen environment. Just some pie (and we didn’t even sample any of the savory ones!). And music. This is where we’d take some out-of-town friends. Welcome to DC! Have some pie.

And now … brunch. No pictures. No details. Just a directive: Little Pearl is delicious. The menu is super-small, but think of this place as a cafe, not a restaurant, and you’ll understand. Apparently, if you’re a young family in capitol hill trying to eat somewhere actually good with your child but don’t want to commit to a full-on “meal”, Little Pearl is where you go. Now I want to try their dinner!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

29 January 2020 at 9:17am

Posted in Happenings

Leaving Our Hearts in San Francisco

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t says: It’s funny. As “the new guy” at work one question I get asked frequently is “so, where you from?”. The good news is that that the motivation for the inquiry nowadays is different than that I’ve encountered previously:

<Enter flashback …>
“Where are you from …?” “NJ”
“Yea, but where are you really from … ?” “NJ”
“Yea, but where are your parents from …?” :-/ “Still NJ”
<Exit flashback …>

Currently, when folks ask where I’m from, I instinctively answer “San Francisco”. I assume it’s because I think I’m being asked “where did you just come from?”. And while SF is true, I also recognize that we’ve spent less time there than almost anywhere else:
Vineland, NJ = 18 years
Baltimore, MD = 4 years
Pittsburgh, PA = 1 year
Philadelphia, PA = 10.5 years
San Francisco, CA = 3.5 years
Washington, DC = 6 months
So I guess I’m actually still “from” NJ, right?

But man do we miss San Francisco. Sing it Tony Bennett.

So … what’s the point of this post?

Well, after I tell people I’m from San Francisco, I often get asked about how it was (answer: “Awesome!”) and [inevitably] the food (also: “awesome!”). However, as I look at the blog, I realize that we/I kinda fella asleep behind the wheel for our SF time, so I’m going to put all of our best dining experiences into a single post for handy reference (also so we know where we want to revisit in the future).

We ate a lot of ramen in SF – these are our faves:
– Orenchi Beyond – best in the city for pork-based ramen – just make sure you add enough of the add-ons or at least some extra noodles because the base bowl is rather sparse
– Nojo – best in the city for chicken-based ramen – get the one with the whole braised leg in it (and all that lovely burdock! – if they charge you extra for burdock it doesn’t matter – you need it)
– Ramen Yamadaya – best in/near Japantown
– Tsuta (SF) and Nagi (Palo Alto) were two spots we regretfully never made it to :-(
– Mensho was woefully overrated/overhyped
– Ippudo was very consistent for a good downtown ramen spot

‘Elevated’ Mexican: Nopalito (don’t forget to go to Bi-Rite for dessert!)

Contempo-American-but-still-keeping-it-fresh: Statebird Provisions

Pizza: Long Bridge

Korean: Jang su Jang (Milpitas)

Place-you-overlook-because-they’re-always-there: Limon Rotisserie

Place-that-you-keep-thinking-is-overhyped-but-isn’t: Souvla

Easy-get-together-spot-with-kids: Spark

Wine bar without pretense: Ungrafted (can also bring kids)

Casual seafood-and-stuff: Anchor Oyster Bar (may or may not be BYO?)

Classy seafood-and-stuff: Petite Crenn

Brunch: Zazie vs. Plow

So-good-but-you’ll-feel-too-full Brunch: Brenda’s

Best BYO Dinner: Zazie on Tuesdays

Classic Sushi: Kiss Seafood

Modern Sushi: Robin

Takeout Sushi: Sushi Live

Pastas: Flour & Water vs. SPQR

Hot Chocolate: Ice Cream Bar

Chocolate Chip Cookie: Tartine Manufactury (not Bakery)

General Pastries: Neighbor Bakehouse (although B Patisserie is a contender)

Classic Ice Cream: Bi-rite Creamery

Fun Ice Cream: Uji Time

The one that got away: Atelier Crenn

Written by afterdinnersneeze

22 January 2020 at 1:21pm

Posted in Happenings

Wine #2/20: 2008 Poesia (Mendoza, Argentina) [and a bonus!]

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t says: Oof. What a long day! g and I needed a little something special after that week (little did we know that it was about to get a bit more hectic, as p was about to get hand-foot-mouth … again). We ordered up some pizza from We the Pizza, one of our favorites for delivery in DC, put p to bed, and cracked open the bottle on the left:

Left: 2008 Poesia (Mendoza, Argentina); Right: 2018 Petit Bourgeois (France)

I don’t know much about Poesia. I have no romantic stories to go with it. No personal history. It popped up one day on and I pounced on it based on the review that gushed with phrases like:
– “pure, vibrant aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, cocoa powder, graphite and woodsmoke” with a “subtle floral note”.
– “dark fruit flavors are accented by minerals, licorice, fresh herbs and flowers … a fine dusting of tannins and echoing juicy length.”
– “not the most opulent [Poesia] … but may be the most suave and best balanced.”
With words like those how can I resist? Especially because historically, for g and me, Argentinian malbecs come across a bit one-dimensional, so I was thrilled at the idea of a leaner malbec with some bottle age.

It was … not as good as that reviewer’s vocubulary. It was indeed a well-balanced wine – far from the $20 juicy, plump malbecs of our past. Raspberry/framboise with black pepper, cedar, herbaceous tones. However, it ran a bit hot on the finish, and the flavors were a bit awkward – not quite melded together for a seamless experience. Perhaps it’ll integrate with years to come, but I worry about the alcohol, which doesn’t really “settle down” like tannins and fruit do. It was a good to see a not-as-fleshy side of Malbec, and it wasn’t “bad”, but it wasn’t so enthralling that I’d bother to pick up another bottle. We live, we learn [not to trust reviewers].

As now it’s two bottles that haven’t quite gone as we’ve planned, I decided to include an extra bottle with this one. You can see it in the pic above! But it doesn’t count as #3 for our challenge because it’s one of our usual weekday wines. This Sauvignon Blanc (that’s classified as a “Vin de France”, meaning it is an amalgation of grapes from all over the country – which basically means it’s “table wine”) is an example of the kind of wine that I/we like, but would never bring to a party. What the meager 85-point review misses about this wine is the very striking note of petrol (fancy-talk for “gasoline”). It’s such a pronounced note that it’s guaranteed to turn off quite a few people … unless you’re one of those that like it. We like this wine quite a bit, and year-in, year-out, it’s reliable. It’s bright and mouth-watering, and features some combination of citrus and petrol that’s short-lived on the palate – so it’s a great palate cleanser while you’re eating. Seek it out for the experience – we usually have it twice a year because it’s that good. And if you prefer this style of wine to the fat, buttery, rich, vanilla/oaky chardonnays out there, then welcome to the club!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

20 January 2020 at 8:59pm

Posted in Happenings

Dinner #1/20: Emilie’s (DC)

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t says: For our first dining experience in 2020, we enlisted the help of one of my new work friends. A wizened DC foodie, she suggested we try out her favorite new DC restaurant Emilie’s. So we booked the reservation, invited her and her husband, and went on our first DC double date!

January 2020, Friday Dinner. WHAT??? No photos!!??? You call this a food blog?? Where’s your instatweetotube?? … I’ll admit it: I forgot. It’s like I forgot how to be a blogger. The entire meal, I only reached for my phone periodically to ensure that our babysitter hadn’t called. I was lost in the food, the wines, and the new friends! Consequently, there are no pictures of the crispiest fried chicken we have ever had (and it was so flavorful!! I hadn’t had chicken that good since the days of eating Korean fried chicken at Meritage helmed by Chef Coll). Missing are snapshots of the intriguing and delicious cheese-less take on cacio e pepe pasta (secret ingredient: miso). The tartare was top-notch. The desserts were incredible. The service was competent, courteous, and had a sense of humor. All in all it was a dining experience that we had been craving since we moved here, but sorely missed on our two previous outings (O-ku and RPM Italian: take our advice and just don’t go). An excellent job by Emilie’s that restores our faith in the DC dining scene.

A few items we hope will evolve at Emilie’s … First, the “cart” I kept hearing about was … cute. It seems to provide diners an introduction to some smaller dishes that sounded pretty ho-hum by written description, but when presented table-side really caught our interest. So it was a welcome experience overall – but don’t go into it expecting the same level of cart performance as provided by one of our SF favorites, Statebird Provisions – that’s a whole ‘nother level. Second, the wine list is on the verge of greatness, but could benefit from some re-organization. With a substantial number of of wine-nerd wines (common grapes from uncommon places, or uncommon grapes entirely) at various price points, it becomes very challenging to make an educated decision. While this could typically just be resolved by chatting with a sommelier, I feel like diners nowadays should be more empowered to make their own choices, kind of like how we can read a food menu (organized by dish size, or richness, or ingredients, or whatever) and make decisions. The wines, themselves, were pretty solid (we went for a steely, minerally albarino and a fun “orange” pinot gris from Willamette Valley*), so I’m excited to keep on exploring the list in future visits.

So bring it on, DC! We’re ready! Let’s see what else you got!

*These wines are not counting in our “20&20 in 2020” challenge.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

12 January 2020 at 9:08pm

Posted in Happenings

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Wine #1/20: 2013 Luscher Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain)

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t says: Alrightie-then! Let’s start off our “20&20 in 2020” off right! On this lovely dinner at home, featuring sous vide T-bones, roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and onion jam, we knew we were going to need something bold to start off our year. But we wanted something that would marry well with the food – not just an all-palate-consuming, grape milk shake Cali cab. After pulling out 6 or 7 wines from our cellar wine fridge, I began putting them back in, as they were individually vetoed by g and I. “Too young.” “Too light.” “Too unknown.” “Too big.” “We just had that last month.” We had to be picky. For the first wine of the challenge, we wanted something “culty” (i.e. low production, low wine press / “under the radar”), but with a personal touch (i.e. g and I have visited). Also, as we’re not made of money (and this was technically not a holiday or birthday), something with a reasonable price (i.e. under a Benjamin) was ideal. In the end, there was only one:

2013 Luscher Ballard Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain)

This property on Spring Mountain puts out a tiny 200-case-ish production wine (that was a relatively recent move – they had made 100 cases before 2012). They make a single red wine (primarily cabernet sauvignon with some merlot and petite verdot) and that’s it; no white wines, no cute single-varietal bottlings of some ancient grape that no one cares about, no super-ultra-limited reserve bottlings that rob their “regular” bottlings of the best fruit. This is just a lovely family who enlists the help of their friends, the Kongsgaards (wish they were my friends!), to make wine from their favorite vines. No multi-million dollar tasting room. No PR budget. No ego. On the contrary, Christina, who handles all the communications, could not be nicer!

So how did the wine taste? It was great (which is the usual for a bottle of LB), but in a different manner than the usual LB! Historically, Luscher Ballard for us has always been superbly well-balanced between the fruit and savory flavors (so it was delicious), while also having adequate acidity and tannins to keep the mouth both watered and dry (if that makes sense). We often say that Lusher Ballard is what we bring when we’re going to a wino’s house for a dinner party. However, the ’13 bottling was drinking pretty atypically at this time. My notes from two and a half years ago originally had this tasting with explosive dark fruit that was nonetheless still kept in check by the rest of the wine, with herbs, etc. This time, after about 5 hours in a decanter, the fruits seem to have gone into hiding, only present for me while the wine was on my tongue, giving me a sense of a velvet cassis blanket with some spice (?clove?), black pepper, and the characteristic dried herb (this is what I get the most from Spring Mountain wines). But the minute the wine was off my palate – bam! – an absolutely monolithic, thrilling acidity. Turned up to 11 (or 12!). It was so strong that it knifed straight through our fat-laden T-bones and onion jam. The nearly-numbing acidity kept the mouth watering and cleansed the palate, readying me for the next bite. The alcohol wasn’t particularly noticeable for a ‘13, and the tannins were silk. In a vacuum, I think that the acidity could be perceived as astringent – so it’s not the wine I’d drink by itself: but next to food (or in a multi-wine tasting), the wine grabs you by the shoulders and slaps you in the mouth. A fun experience even if it’s not what we expected.

We are a Luscher Ballard fan club over here so we’re not even going to pretend to be impartial. If you’ve never had a LB before, seek out something like that ’12 (or ’14? Haven’t had it yet), which are likely to be a bit more balanced from the get-go. That said, g and I were happy to start off the new year on this one. Many thanks to the proprietors for making such great wines*, and we look forward to many more years of Luscher Ballard.

*No wine on this blog will ever be acquired at a discount or in exchange for a “review”. It’s our wine! We bought it fair and square! We drink it when we want! We write whatever we feel!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

5 January 2020 at 12:31pm

Posted in Happenings

Tagged with

“20&20” for 2020

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“Time’s the king of men; he’s both their parent, and he is their grave, and gives them what he will, not what they crave.”

t says: Yes, it has been a while. Months. Years. Where has the time gone? Have we truly not eaten anything worth blogging? I assure you we have, but I guess we were a bit busy? (… which is a terrible excuse). In hindsight, I realize that San Francisco was absolutely merciless in occupying our time, what with all the “hiking” and “eating” and “vineyard visiting” and “working” and “more working” and “family-starting” and “living in the moment” … Could we have posted some pictures? I suppose – but I felt that I could not provide the level of content that you, our tens of thousands of readers, expect! After all:

“If a task has once begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”

But now things are different yet again. In mid-2019, we left San Francisco with [most of] our stuff and [all of] our small family, and are now settling in a new, very different city: Washington, DC. And while we are no less busy than we used to be, g and I had a “moment” a few days ago that inspired me to log into wordpress after all this time (especially because they’ve been charging me those yearly fees!). Picture this: g & t, back in Philly, eating at Fond, and seeing the Pork Belly on the menu, and pulling up old adsz posts … like the one from our first visit, and this one, and this one, and that one time we went to Fond after that other restaurant we still couldn’t remember. As our time machine jumped, hopped, and skipped over 9 years of memories, g and I had smiles on our faces as we revisited all the great meals with all our great friends. That’s what the blog was started for! Capturing the moments! And while we know we had a wonderful time in SF, as our iPhones are full of photos to prove it, they lack the narrative, which I am concerned will fade over time. (Fortunately, g has a memory like a vise … while I’ve been known to forget a few “minor” details … like person, place, and time …)

So is it time to come crawling back to adsz? I don’t know! Even now as I type this post in the few moments of down-time that I have on New Year’s Eve, I am uncertain of my words. Is there room for an “old-fashioned” blog anymore in 2020? With facebook, twitter, youtube, instagram, twitch, netflix, hulu, disney+, and appletv, I just don’t think that anyone jacked into a computer has the time to read whole paragraphs anymore … But then I’m reminded: it’s not for you, anyways! It’s for us! So I’m going to try! To all past and current readers of the blog, welcome back to the sneeze.

So here we go … we’re starting off 2020 with a babysitter and a resolution:
“We will enjoy 20 bottles of wine* and go out to 20 dinners over the course of 2020, with blog posts to prove it.”
There. I wrote it. As it is typed, so shall it be done tried. Our first reservation has been booked (in one week!). But pacing will be important – so we’re going to need some help; if you know us personally, make some contact and help us with this goal, damnit! For the sake of the blog!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, while it doesn’t “count” in our “20&20 in 2020” challenge, Fond was frickin’ amazing. Lee Styer is nothing short of a superhero. The foie gras was the best I’ve ever had (supplanting Bibou’s which had just supplanted his). The pork belly is as good as it always was. Go there and be as happy as we.

*These bottles of wine must be wines that are beyond the “usual” weekday wines for us. They don’t necessarily need to be at a restaurant, but they do require a bit of ceremony: decanting, fancy glasses, swirling, sniffing, etc.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

1 January 2020 at 12:01am

Posted in Happenings

Tagged with ,

A brief return to Philly …

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t says:  g and I had a chance to go back to NJ/Philly to celebrate the holidays.  Much good food was had, so I figured I’d recap some highlights:

There aren’t many things that SF lacks when compared to Philly (excluding the obvious: affordable housing).  The food scene in SF is just so vast that g and I confess we haven’t even scratched the surface of what it has to offer.  That said, we have noticed a few weaknesses.  We haven’t quite found an Indian takeout as good as Ekta/Tiffin.  And we haven’t found hummus as good as Dizengoff.  We made it a point to eat both during our trip!  Now maybe it’s not fair to say “there aren’t any good hummuserias in SF” because that’s pretty darn specific.  But when you get some of those sunchokes (or cabbage or lamb or whatever the choices are for the day) in that smooth creamy hummus with the freshly made pita (that is way better than any pita I’ve had yet in the Bay Area – and I’ve tried a quite a few), there’s just no comparison.  I actually ended up buying a Dizengoff t-shirt while I was there, just to keep the spirit alive.  So Michael Solomonov, if you’re reading this (because obviously you follow low-readership blogs like this one), bring Dizengoff to SF (and toss in some Federal Donuts – no need for the chicken if it’s too much), and I’ll be there once a week for sure.

a and I ventured the Walnut Street Cafe for a dudes’ lunch, and I ended up ordering this sandwich.  Now it looks pretty boring.  And most might say, “you call that a sandwich – where’s the meat?”.  Hear me out.  A broccoli rabe sandwich.  It sounds so silly, but damn I miss broccoli rabe.  I feel like Philly was just putting rabe in everything, and I took it for granted.  Now, surrounded by kales and lettuces of SF, rabe (or “rapini” as it’s more commonly known out here) isn’t really used as much – and when it is, it is rarely permitted to retain that bitter greens flavor that I so love.  So of course –  a broccoli rabe sandwich was exactly what I wanted.  The rest of the dishes were pretty good (a great butternut squash soup, albeit a bit pricey; and a’s pork sandwich was tasty and filling), but I did it for the rabe.

No visit to Philly is complete without a trip to DiBruno.  And I caught them at just the right time when they had Rogue River Blue in stock.  This super-expensive cheese is totally worth it.  It’s so salty, so stinky, and just has the slightest bit of sweet – my favorite blue for sure.  I left it in my parent’s fridge without putting it in plastic and let’s just say that “they noticed” …  Thanks DiBruno’s – happy to see you’re still a Philly food landmark.

And last, we have the new Aimee Olexy joint, The Love.  If you like the Garden, go to the Love.  It’s a bit more hip, a bit more chic that the Garden, offering dishes that ride the line between the comfortable warmth of Garden and the more see-and-be-seen atmosphere of Rittenhouse.  Above is the short rib stroganoff which was insanely good.  Everything we had was delightful – we only wish we were more hungry so we could have explored the remainder of the menu (we played it safe – shortrib strganoff, spaghetti and lobster, gnudi, etc).  Gotta try out that chicken!

In all, our visit to Philly was a whirlwind.  It was great to see friends and family.  Is was fun to visit the restaurants, new and old.  There was even nostalgia when walking around my old workplace (well, a combination of nostalgia and relief from the snow … because … you know … it likes to snow whenever we visit Philly … just to remind us of what we’re ‘missing’ in SF).  Until next time … I guess it’s back to 60-degree days!


Written by afterdinnersneeze

18 December 2017 at 8:56pm