Thursday, October 19, 2006

Falling In Love at the Bistrot du Coin

Like I kind of said in the last post, it's all about the company that makes an outing a special event. Last year I had the possibility of eating solo at The French Laundry. For sure that would have been an incredible meal but I would have enjoyed it alone and that's not much fun at all.

Seems that this month is the month of birthdays and last Saturday night found a large group of friends (some I knew, others I didn't) jammed into the upstairs dining area at Washington D.C.'s Bistrot du Coin. Evidently, the Bistrot is jammed all week long. It's on the 1700 block of Connecticut, just above DuPont Circle, which means that it's a serious pain in the ass for a suburban living, automobile-driving sucker like myself. The weekend before we were eating at my favorite joint, Brasserie Les Halles when Michelle suggested trying their (hers and Christian's) favorite: du Coin. And there we were.

Bistrot du Coin is a bit of a departure from Les Halles. It's brighter, louder and definitely more packed than Les Halles, which is a minus in my book. You can smoke at the bar but there's no tables for smoking (advantage: Les Halles) and while they do have Foie Gras (advantage: Bistrot) and a wide variety of mussels (advantage: Bistrot), it's just not the same, nor is it a replacement for me (advantage: Les Halles).

But let's talk about the food. Simply, it's deelish! While it is a bit disappionting to see the bread precut, placed in baskets and jammed into a bread pantry for ease of use, the butter was soft when it came to the table and that's a lovely thing. It amazes me how many nice restaurants we go to and the butter is hard as a rock. Then you try cutting and spreading it and it's just this clumpy mess that doesn't mix well with the palate. I'm hoping that this was intentional on the part of du Coin and not just happenstance.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the meal (other than the girl, details to follow) was the foie gras. Perfect thickness to show off the delicate nature of the liver, it was just heavenly. Paired with some greens and a small glass of sauternes and it's waaay better than Les Halles foie.

The onglet and shallots was interesting. Too much black pepper on the meat for my tastes but it was cooked just right and the roasted shallots made for a tantalizing accompaniment. But not as tantalizing as my dinner companion, Vanessa - the Chinese girl from L.A. pursuing an MBA who strangely reminds me of a snowflake-y, Jennifer Tilly-esque looking sensation, eating mussels in a white wine sauce and sharing it with those around her.

It's true, I try to be an objective observer but I'm a flawed human who succumbs to his weaknesses: food and women. I can no longer offer an objective opinion on whether or not the mussels were truly good. Perhaps they were cooked just right, with the perfect amount of wine, butter, veggies and whatever else goes into that pot, or perhaps they were just being shared by the sensation to my left. Personally, I think it was the latter.

BTW, the mussels were smashing.

Los Italianos - Suburbs From Hell, Part 2

Dateline: Monday Night.

It's The Rod's birthday and we're at the local Macaroni Grill and I don't understand why.

Baltimore's a town that can be hard to find some good ethnic foods, but good Italian food is not one of them. Just a quick shot down I-83 to Little Italy and some of the city's best Italian can be had at places like Boccacio's or La Scala. Even in the hellish suburban enclave of Timonium, in the shopping center behind Jay's Shave Ice, one can find a group of Neopolitans working behind the counter and producing some tasty and authentic Italian cuisine at the oddly-named Pasta Blitz

With such a plethora of great Italian going on I'm continually perplexed as to why suburbia refuses to take a short drive for some excellent food instead of an hour's wait outside a national corporate chain restaurant with a penchant for bland dishes and vacuum bagged sauces and pre-portioned foods. Even more perlexing is why this group of friends are choosing that same national chain over the good stuff when they too know where to find the good stuff.

But I try to be an affable chap and since Macaroni Grill is pretty close to my house, I didn't raise a concern. Perhaps I'll be surprised and head off to meet everyone for our 8pm seating.

It's a Monday night so the dining room is slow. For me, there's no better time to head out into the restaurant scene than during the week. The dining rooms are slow which means that a good kitchen can take more time preparing their dishes properly and you generally receive better service and food. Otherwise, you're going out to eat during the weekend with everyone and their mother, smushed into position on a two-top, surrounded by a gaggle of amateurs who don't know what to order off the menu but want everything NOW. Not the ideal way to enjoy an outing, if you ask me.

Our waitress was nice enough, she took care of things and was generally friendly. Started out with some appetizers that everyone shared. There was the ubiquitous Fried Calamari with a light batter and generally uninspired red dipping sauce. Our uncle had some mussels, which he didn't share but they looked kinda interesting. And I had an order of the minestrone soup. I ordered the "cup" size which came out in a frickin' huge bowl. I was shocked, but grateful that I didn't order the "bowl." The soup could have been quite enjoyable. If it was served hot. Instead it was limp, lifeless and tepid.

For the main course, I ordered the Penne Rustica. Penne pasta with shrimp, sliced chicken and a cream sauce, covered in cheese and crusted under a salamander. Mine came out hot and actually pretty darn tasty. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish. Finally, something worth eating at Macaroni Grill.

Everyone else ordered some sort of pasta dish and the serving sizes are just ridiculous. Who can eat all that food? It's just dumb. I chowed the shrimp and chicken and left a small pile of penne.

All in all, it wasn't the worst dining experience. The penne made it decent and the company made it a fun outing, which is what really matters because it's lonely to eat fantastic food all by yourself.

Still, I'm harboring desires of dinner at La Scala sometime in the near future.