Restaurant Review – Againn (Rockville)

Local. Organic. Fresh. Sustainable. Delicious.

One of the new gastro-pubs in DC  set up another shop in the old Houston’s space on Rockville Pike! Againn Gastropub (pronounced “aguinn”, meaning ‘together’ or ‘with us’ in gaelic) opened its doors six weeks ago, and is a welcome addition to the suburban foodscape. Touting traditional pub fare inspired by fresh, local ingredients – they really hit the mark.

I have visited the establishment twice so far – eating a delicious, relaxed dinner in the dining room the first time, and more recently, meeting friends in the bar for lunch and drinks. Both experiences were memorable, and the food was incredible both times. Every dish is done right… Made from scratch with the previously noted organic, sustainable and local ingredients.

Today, the bar area beckoned… We selected from the extensive beer menu on which seasonal drafts and interesting craft beers mingle with international heavy-hitters to complete a well-rounded beer list. *It should be noted that a lovely selection of pre-prohibition era cocktails and wines by the glass or bottle are available as well*. Our bartender for the day was Fabian – knowledgeable and passionate about good spirits – he is on a mission to make sure we all expand our drink (beer/wine/cocktail) horizons – pushing you if need be to try new versions things you already like.

Waiting for friends we slow-played lunch… starting with Crispy Brussel Sprouts and Spinach and Artichoke dip. The crispy sprouts were my favorite – crispy leaves (almost charred in places) encase perfectly cooked Brussel Sprouts and are tossed with what tastes like lemon, salt and pepper. The dish is served with a lightly curried mayonnaise that is the perfect complement to the dish. I enjoyed the creamy spinach and artichoke dip as well, but the Brussel Sprouts are a standout. (I NEVER though I would say that!)

Lunch entrée orders included the Pan-Crisped Ham and Cheese Sarine (sandwich), a wonderful lamb based Shepherd’s Pie, a craft burger (featuring grass-fed beef), and a (daily special) sandwich piled with home-made pastrami.

The hot Ham and Cheese sandwich is made with brown bread, house made ham, and jasper hill cave-aged cheddar cheese. It is served with a homemade pickle and nicely fried “chips” (fries!). The cheese really makes this sandwich, seeping out of the bread and frying to a crisp on the bread, while still maintaining a melty-gooey texture in the sandwich itself. The fries and pickle round out the meal nicely, but be careful – the pickle is spicy-hot! The Shepherd’s Pie was served bubbling away in its own dish, with a gold and crispy mashed potato crust hiding a treasure trove of tender ground lamb underneath. (I was thankful to have been able to sneak a bite or two of this amazing dish!).

The home-made pastrami sandwich was served on grilled brown bread with arugula, thinly shaved red onions and  rustic mustard, and the grass-fed beef burger was beautifully cooked and served on a soft brioche bun. I have it on good authority that both dishes were wonderfully executed and I can attest to the fact that they were well received.

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I would be remiss if I neglected to note the sumptuous potted pork or steamed mussel appetizers I enjoyed during my first visit. Likewise, the extensive Scotch selection can not be overlooked. There is also the fact that special menus for Brunch and Sunday Roast are in the works.

Againn Gastropub is the place I would want to own. Honest and delicious food served in a warm and relaxed environment. It is a place that I intend to visit over and over again (no pun intended!)  :)  Be aware that menus will change with the seasons, but you are sure to find interesting selections every time you visit.

http://againntavern.com/



12256 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852

301.230.9260

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Restaurant Review – Spice Xing (Rockville)

I am at a bit of a loss as to how to properly review Spice Xing (Rockville, MD), because Indian food is new for me (and a bit too hot for my tender taste buds!). Spice Xing is the younger sibling of the more established Passage to India restaurant (Bethesda, MD). Opening about a year ago in Rockville Town Center, it has proven to be a nice compliment to the ethnically diverse food selections available in the newer development.

All the elements for a nice restaurant are there – The interior is beautifully decorated, with a high cloth draped ceiling in the main dining room, and great photos of spices in the bar dining area. The staff is friendly, attentive and knowledgeable, the drinks are inventive yet classic, and the menu features Mughali style Indian food with a focus on dishes that have been shaped by culinary influences of outside cultures.

We started with a lovely cocktail – the Anglo-Indian, made with Hendricks gin, Angostura Bitters and an interesting Ginger Liqueur (Domaine de Canton Ginger). This nicley aromatic concoction is served in a martini class with a cucumber slice as a garnish. Very refreshing on a muggy summer night!

Then, we decided to explore the menu by sampling off of the “small plates” section of the menu, starting with Garlic Nan that was served with three sauces – A yogurt/mint sauce, a spicy-sweet Tamarind Chutney, and a Hot Green Herbal sauce (spicy green peppers add a nice kick!)

The bread and sauces were delicious. The nicely garlicky Nan, with crispy charred bits and thicker, chewier parts boded well for the meal to come. The sauces complimented the bread nicely, but the bread stands up very well on its own. I kept going back and trying the hot green sauce even though it was well outside of my standard heat comfort zone because the flavor was incredible!

Next, we ordered lamb and scallops. Two beautiful lamb chops came with more of the minty yogurt sauce and a nice cucumber salad. The chops were tender and juicy – cooked perfectly. As for the flavor – this is where I start to get a little fuzzy. The hot green sauce had seared my tastebuds, and I was not able to discern flavors for the rest of the evening :(

The scallops were nicely cooked as well, but they came tossed in an even HOTTER sauce – a spicy tomato based sauce that was way too hot for my taste (and yes, I tried cooling off with the yogurt sauce). The menu highlights the scallops as having French influences in the dish… I couldn’t tell you.

With the help of our waitress, we were able to find some items with less heat, but the flavors still escaped me… Kulcha stuffed with Paneer was basically Nan stuffed with a mild crumbly cheese. It was pleasantly chewy and crispy like with the garlic nan, but filled with a thin layer of the cheese. The color and texure of the cheese reminded me a little of crumbled up hard-boiled egg yolks. The dish was pleasant, but I liked the Garlic Nan better.

Finally, the Baby Dosa – my favorite dish of the evening!! My tastebuds had recovered a little bit by this point, and this wonderful dish really hit the spot! (Our sympathetic and helpful waitress recommended this dish, and I am grateful!).

Baby Dosa is a thin rice pancake folded up and served over what can best be described as a potato and onion hash. Wrap the potato mixture in pieces of the pancake for a delicious treat. This dish was served with a coconut curry and a red curry. The red curry was quite hot, but the medium-hot coconut curry was a nice compliment. I ate most of the dish sauce free, but was very glad that I tried them.

My mother was my dining companion – she handles the heat quite well, and was very happy with dinner. She is, in fact, a return customer to this establishment. So please do not let me scare you away! She ALSO took the beautiful pictures (thank you!!!) :)

All in all – my first foray into Indian cuisine was interesting, and enjoyable. I really wish that I could have tasted more of the nuanced flavors that I have been told were present in the dishes. I would definitely go back and give it another try, but I think Iwould start out with less heat and build up through the meal. *We DID hear another server asking a table how much heat the people liked, so perhaps you can tailor your meal to your palate.*

Spice Xing
100 Unit B
Gibbs Street
Rockville MD 20850
Tel : 301-610-0303
Email : spicexing@comcast.net

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Elevation Burger

In the last few years a number of burger joints have been popping up across the region. Some are unabashedly greasy fast-food, some purport to be healthy versions of the standard, and others boast true gourmet fare. Each brand has it’s own spin on the classic burger and fries, and I stopped in to visit one of the newer additions to the scene – Elevation Burger – to see what it was all about.

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I was not sure what to expect. Why the name Elevation Burger? (There ARE elevators in the townhouses next to the Park Potomac location… was the name a play on that?) I quickly learned that the Park Potomac shop is one of many, and the name is much more serious than an architectural joke. The name references the companies belief that by consciously eating the right things, treating ingredients the right way, building responsibly, and minimizing waste, that we will be elevating ourselves. It’s a whole higher consciousness / hippy-chic thing… and I am *kindof* buying into it.

Elevation Burger is serious about their mission. They serve burgers made with 100% USDA Certified Organic, Free Range, Grass Fed beef that they grind on site daily. They hand cut  fries and deep fry them in heart-healthy olive oil (the used oil is then recycled – used to create bio-diesel fuel). They even have a soda option that is free of High-Fructose Corn Syrup. That means no hormones, no pesticides, no trans-fats… nothing unknown and scary in the food. It should also be noted that there is a serious lack of plastic in the building – even the serving trays are metal. This will ease the “bad plastic” concerns of some diners.

In addition to the organic Beef burger, Elevation Burger serves TWO veggie burgers – one with “fire roasted taste” and one that “tastes like veggies” (the only vegan option). To order, select your burger patty, and then customize – Choose 1-10 patties (a mix of beef and veggie if you like) and add real cheddar cheese as desired, and ask for your creation to be topped the way you like. *The topping/condiment list is not exhaustive, but they have enough choices to please the majority of diners. Check out the full menu here:

http://www.elevationburger.com/EB.php#ourmenu

Mr. Food Nerd and I both got “Elevation Burgers” – two patties with cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. We got one order of french fries because I was worried that the burgers would be too big, but they were perfect!

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Do not let the “enlightened” concept fool you into thinking that you are going to be eating rabbit food – these burgers are the real deal – juicy, greasy (in that good burger way), and yummy! All the elements work together – tender, flavorful meat covered in melty – slightly sharp – cheddar cheese, crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes all sandwiched in a soft, yeasty bun. Keep the wrapping on because this can get messy!

The thin cut french fries notable as well – The olive oil that the potatoes are fried in adds a nice flavor component in the background and produces a fry that is crunchy on the outside and tender in the center.  I liked the fries SOO much that I panicked when we started running low and accused Mr. Food Nerd of eating them “too fast” *I am ashamed and I apologize*  :)

Now… some advice…. try not to sit inside. The dining area is nicely appointed with green/sustainable/leed friendly stuff, which is great – but the place is loud! An alarm echoes around the space every few minutes, an occasional crashing sound is heard when the potatoes are being freshly cut for new orders, and the staff YELLS out names as orders become ready. The noises all blend together in a cacophony of sound that became unpleasant as the place filled up. Most locations have outdoor seating which would be a quieter option.

Overall – I left happy, feeling that I had just had a nice burger, and that somehow I had done something good for myself and the environment. It’s  like going to a yoga class and drinking a glass of wheat grass juice, only so much tastier and a lot less sweaty.

If you would like to visit the new chain yourself, there are locations open in Arlington, Falls Church, Potomac/Rockville and National Harbor ready to serve. More locations will be opening soon. Also poke around their website for more information on their mission.

http://www.elevationburger.com/EB.php#locations

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Big City Restaurant Moving to the ‘Burbs!!

I am a big fan of Matchbox Restaurant in DC. They make wonderful brick-oven pizzas, and are known for serving plates full of juicy sliders topped with mountains of onion straws. They also boast a bistro menu full of tempting dishes. Salads, sandwiches and some serious entrees that deserve to be recognized as well. *I hear that they also have a great brunch menu, but I never make downtown in time*

Well… the days of trucking to Chinatown (or to the newer Capitol Hill location) to visit this fine establishment are almost over! No longer will you need to elbow for bar space with crowds of rabid hockey fans. No longer will you need to jockey for a table with the staff assistants who swarm the hill looking for great happy hours (and good deals on sliders!). No… soon my friends Matchbox will open the doors of it’s third location on ROCKVILLE PIKE (1699 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852).

The newest Matchbox is under construction on the ill fated grounds of the former PGA Grill (formerly That’s Amore, and Shelly’s Woodroast – I know it was something else before that, but I can’t recall the name!). Matchbox Rockville will be opening their doors some time in 4Q 2010, and will be a welcome big-city addition to the pike.

Happily, this opening coincides with the planned Fall opening of Neiman Marcus’ discount store – Last Call Studio at Congressional Plaza. Brunch and shopping anyone?? I’ll be there!

http://www.matchboxdc.com/

http://www.nmlastcallstore.com

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