Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hidden Gems of U Street

U Street can be a little intimidating at first. It's a jumble of indie bars, restaurants and lounges, lodged into all sort of nooks and crannies that have no architectural uniformity. Some are in basements, others are on rooftops, and some are hidden behind poles, columns and heavy curtains. It's often hard to tell from the outside what to expect, and while this unpredictability has its charm, those new to the area might want a little guidance.

So here are two hidden gems to encourage you to explore further. What they have in common are generous happy hours that overlap with free live music. Combined with an intimate setting and attentive service, this puts them squarely on my "will return" list, even though the food is not the main draw. (Though decent in both cases).

JoJo's (at 1518 U Street), is easy to pass over if you don't know to look for it:

But if you dare to duck beneath the stairwell, and enter through the nondescript door, you will find a cool jazzy kinda place, with spare but warm decor and a low-key vibe. The happy hour menu goes til 8, and includes small plates as well as drinks. The waitstaff is super suave (we loved Aster, who hailed from Ethiopia) and let us know when the last call for happy hour was. Once the live music started, the true unwinding began.

This sign is just to the left of the door underneath the stairs

Desperados (at 1342 U Street) is smaller, darker, louder, and younger. It's more accessible too, as you can see the musicians through the window just below street level. I loved the cozy exposed-brick bar and off-beat feel to this place, and the attentive waitstaff are always on hand for drink refills and an extra order of those yummy fries. Happy hour, including small plates and drinks, til 8pm.

Peering down from street level, you can see a woman at the keyboard below

 Jojo on Urbanspoon

Desperados Burgers and Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tasting Notes: Kyrgyzstan

This post is dedicated to those wondering if there is anything to eat in Kyrgyzstan besides horse meat and mare's milk. Travel guides love to revel in these exotica, and perhaps there is an audience for it. But for the rest us, a reassuring note: Kyrgyzstan is no Mongolia, a country so ill-suited to agriculture that all of its fresh produce is imported from China. No, Kyrgyzstan produces its own fruit and vegetables. In this post I give you a late summer delight: berries.

Tiny but intense strawberries, wrapped in paper cones and sold by street vendors. And blackberries, made into delicious tarts and home brewed blackberry wine, sold in recycled bottles that happened to be on hand.

Apologies for this blurry photo, but I had to include something to document these delicious tarts:

Perhaps made more delicious because eaten while ambling on the paths of the Ala Archa national park:

And in case you are wondering why there are snow capped moutains in late summer, those are year-round glaciers. Though they are receding...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tasting Notes: Tajikistan

By the rushing waters of the Varzob River, near Dushanbe,

We ate lamb shashlik...

and grilled fish...

But the dishes to die for were the salad -- local tomatoes and cucumbers so flavorful that all the seasoning they required was a sprinkle of salt --

-- and chaka, a local yogurt so sour, it is referred to as a "sour milk preparation" in culinary guides. Yum!

On the other hand, what wouldn't taste good in this setting?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tasting Notes: Sweden

My favorite foodie moment in Sweden was not a dish but this thoughtful (and energy efficient) gesture: