Kenya: Swahili out in Maryland (Guest Post)

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Let me just put this out there, right off the bat:  I love food. I especially love really tasty, really savory meals cooked with a healthy combination of flavor and love. Swahili Village (swahili-village.com) in bumblefuck, just-outside-of-DC, Maryland hits that very mark, like, perfectly.

Ok… so, maybe I’m exaggerating by saying that Swahili Village is out in the boonies of Maryland, but the 30-ish minute drive through the back roads (read:  deep back woods) of Maryland  to get to Beltsville really made it seem like it was in the middle of nowhere.

 Anyway, Bridget and I were slated to have a girl’s night on a bitter cold night at the end of February, when earlier that day she texted me about joining her and Matt on a Kenyan food adventure. I was totally down because, like I said, I love food but I also love adventures. Great Friday night combination.

 The lovely couple picked me up around 7pm and we made our merry way to Beltsville. On the drive up, Bridget and Matt were telling me about all the reviews they read about this place, citing that it got pretty poppin’ thanks to specials throughout the week, including an all-day Ladies Night special on Wednesdays. Not going to lie, when we got to the place, said “poppin’” status was a little hard to believe: there were only five other couples/small groups in the restaurant. Granted the restaurant isn’t huge, but when there are only five tables filled and there’s a reputation to live up to, you know I’m going to throw a little shade (more on that later).

 Upon arrival, we were promptly seated at a really awkward table, somewhat in the middle of the restaurant (really, in the middle of the flow of traffic). At first we were a little uncomfortable, but we found out that there was a wedding or big party rolling through in a matter of minutes, so we made due with our seating arrangements. Not to mention, our server (and really everyone that worked in the restaurant) was so kind and pleasant that it didn’t really faze us in the end.

 Matt and Bridget had done some recon on the type of traditional Kenyan food to order, so they scouted the menu with a very particular eye. I, on the other hand, was going on a blind date with Kenyan food. The tricky part for me was that it was a Friday during Lent and, as progeny of a doting Catholic Hispanic mother, I needed to uphold the whole meatless meals on Friday thing.

 That idea went out the door when we ordered samosas as an appetizer (oops!). The samosas at Swahili Village come two per order (we got two orders) and are fried triangle pastries stuffed with spicy ground beef. They are served with a seemingly inconspicuous red sauce. We stared at the sauce and dove into smelling it as soon as we got our order, at which point a man, who we think might be the owner, came over to us to ask, “Do you like spicy?” I said yes and he replied, “Well, this is a very spicy Kenyan sauce. Try it, but be careful. It’s veeeery spicy.”

 So I dribbled a little of the sauce on my plate and dabbed my samosa cautiously into it. Good thing I heeded this guy’s warning because it was REALLY spicy. Like nasal-passage-clearing, make-you-sweat spicy. But it was so good. So, so, soooo good. The sauce added an extra kick to the already perfectly seasoned, spicy, juicy ground beef wrapped in crispy, flaky pastry dough. Perfection.

 As we waited for our entrees, our drink order arrived: Matt ordered a Tusker beer, Bridget got some chai tea, and I went for the mango lassi. My drink was good, but I’ve had better mango lassi elsewhere. I will say that the mango lassi, which is basically a mango smoothie, was a perfect counter to that spicy red sauce served with the samosas. Odd that our drinks took longer than our appetizers, but totally makes sense since we had to ask three times to get some water for the table.

 Luckily, our entrees came soon after our drinks. Matt ordered the beef Mbuzi au Nyama Mchuzi (Beef stew cooked in Kenyan spices) with a side of chapati—traditional Kenyan flatbread, and Ugali, listed as “cornmeal mush” on the menu, but was actually more of a thick polenta cake. I tried a little of the sauce from his stew: the spices were immaculately combined to make a savory, flavorful, but not over-powering stew.

Bridget ordered the stewed lentils which are cooked with spices in coconut milk, along with some chapati and a side of spinach. The lentils had layers of taste and were both delicately sweet and deliciously savory all in one bite.

I ordered the curry chicken with chapati and Ndizi Kaanga—fried plantains. Chicken and plantains are diet staples for me, so my entrée had some hard-set ideals to live up to. I will give Swahili Village credit: they did an amazing job. The plantains were not too firm and not to mushy; they were cooked to a perfect crispy lightness, completely avoiding any signs of soggy, heaviness (which makes plantains completely not worth eating, in my humble and weathered opinion). The chicken was cooked so well in the curry that it basically melted apart when you stuck your fork in it and the curry was perfectly balanced without overwhelming the meal. I literally wiped my plate clean with the help of the chapati.

 Remember that shade I threw because the restaurant had a “poppin’” vibe but was empty when we arrived? Well, by the time we came up for air after devouring our delicious meals, the three of us realized that the whole restaurant was full and people were waiting in line for a table. By that time, the service went from being leisurely (but still good) to being on point (because of the influx of people, I suppose). And with that, the shade dissipated completely and solidified that idea that I’d totally venture out to Swahili Village again.

-Christina Hernandez

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Greece: Three is not a Crowd (Guest Post)

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(While on this “Eat Around the World” adventure we had some friends join us.  Bridget and I both thought it be fun for them to guest post.  Greece was written from the view of Melissa (Dubby) Williams.  Enjoy!)

I received a $150 gift certificate to Kellari Teverna.  (www.Kellari.us) It was given to me by an amazing, Greek, patient of mine and I figured, if she is Greek and gave me a gift certificate to a Greek restaurant, then it has to be phenomenal.

Now, as a single person in DC, using $150 in one restaurant would require me to find some backup. Que Matt and Bridget!  I thought this would be a good opportunity to celebrate their engagement and my upcoming birthday.

I arrived before them and sat at the bar and ordered a really good Pinot Noir. So good that I can’t remember the name.. Plus I had a few more after this one which didn’t help either.  We were seated fairly quickly after Matt and Bridget got their drinks from the bar.

Our waitress greeted us and asked if we had picked an appetizer, and since we were still deciding, we told her to come back. We should not have done that. She took her sweet time getting back to us. It was actually really comical (at least for now).

We were having a great conversation and even saw two men who were meeting for dinner, call each other to find where the other person was so that they could meet up. They were about 10 feet apart but never saw each other.

We settled on Kellari Veggie Chips for an appetizer.  Which were crispy eggplant and zucchini with tzatziki dip and our waitress set off again.

We wanted drinks, but that was not to be. She would walk by us and we tried, very politely at first, to get her attention. That was to no avail. Eventually, Matt got up and went to find the manager, of course it was him who did it.  We got our drink order in (which were comped) and Matt ordered a Greek beer, Aris.

The Kellari chips finally arrived and were awesome! Thin and crispy and just fried enough and the Tzatzki Dip was heaven. I could have eaten a whole order just to myself.

The waitress finally came back and we were able to order our dinner. Bridget got the Garides Corfu which was pan seared jumbo shrimp served over wild mushrooms.  Matt gote the Paidakai which was beautiful lamp chops with oregeno roasted potatoes.  I got Kotopoulo which was roasted organic chicken with feta infused potato puree and caramelized onions. We ordered a side of lightly grilled asparagus as well.

Now, another wait is in store for us. We wait and we wait and we wait and we wait and we want more drinks and try to get our waitress’ attention again, and she was just not having it.  The only thing comical about this was that I did see a man at another table spray himself in the face with a lemon while trying to put it on his fish entree.

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What seemed like hours later, our food arrived and let me tell you, my dinner was AH-MAY-ZING. The chicken was so flavorful and tender and the potato puree was just out of this world. I don’t eat seafood so I didn’t have any of Bridget’s dish but I’m pretty sure it was really good. The asparagus was also really good. Really really good.  Matt’s was gone so fast I am pretty sure it was great.  We had given up on a third drink because our waitress was just never coming back. She didn’t even come back to see how our dinner was.

I could not come to a Greek restaurant without getting some baklava. . The baklava  was also really good, but truthfully, that same patient that gave me this gift card, makes her own and hers is much better.  She also brought over a sweet dessert wine on the house of course due to her horrible service.  It was a nice gesture but it was so damn sweet and hard to drink.

The waitress never gave us the bill. We tried everything. We were polite but she walked by our table at least six times and not once did she drop the bill off. Matt started waving his hand in her face and when I say in her face, I mean it.  She walked right behind him and he would put his hand up in her face and she dodged it and Bridget started going “excuse me!!!!!!!” I was voting that we just leave.  This woman was just not having it.

We waiting nearly 20 minutes for our bill and when it came it was $148. Remember the gift certificate was for $150? Couldn’t have worked that out any better.  Trust me, she didn’t get a great tip, mostly Matt’s idea.

So all in all, the food and wine was amazing and I enjoyed our bartender, but the service was horrible. The worst I’ve ever experienced. Would I go back? Yes, but I would sit at the bar. At least, we had good conversation which, if you know Matt, know that this is unusual.

-Melissa Williams

Ukraine: Chicken Kiev to the next level

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Dobre den! That’s good morning in Ukrainian.

Fun fact: I studied abroad in Ukraine between my sophomore and junior year of college. I only remember two phrases from my time there but I do remember a lot about the food. It was all delicious and so fresh. This is where I learned to love the taste of farm fresh eggs. Oh and also, vodka, lots and lots of vodka.

My first night in Kiev, our group was served kotlety po-kyivskomy (chicken Kiev) so when we were searching for Ukrainian restaurants with no luck, I suggested we make it. From scratch. I don’t know what I was thinking.

After a little more internet digging we found two other Ukrainian dishes to go along side the chicken: potato varenyky (potato dumplings) and holubtsy (cabbage rolls).

We set out to make the chicken Kiev first. Matt pounded the chicken breasts into a thin layer so we could gently roll a “finger sized piece” of butter inside of them. Then the little bundles were dipped in an egg wash and bread crumbs. We were a little skeptical of the amount of butter inside but these turned out great. I think the butter helped keep the chicken extra moist.

The real standouts, though, of this at home cooked “around-the-world meal” were the cabbage rolls. Stuffed with rice, ground beef, and seasonings and smothered in a tomato sauce and slow cooked for an hour.

The potato dumplings aren’t worth mentioning. Likely they fell short because I had no idea what I was doing and not because they aren’t a tasty dish. A doughy pasta stuffed with mashed potatoes should be delicious and definitely worth a second chance.

Our cooking efforts paid off this time. We enjoyed a variety of Ukrainian dishes and sharpen our culinary skills. On to the next foodie adventure!

-Bridget

Scratch Map: Nine Down, Many More to Come

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So our map is being scratched and turning different colors.  As of today we have had cuisines from NINE different countries!  We have enjoyed: Ireland, Poland, Honduras, Sweden, Iceland, India, Japan, Cuba and France.  We are just getting started and have so much more to enjoy from around the world.

We have had some great restaurant cuisines as well as some fantastic ones cooked  at home.  Looking forward to traveling the rest of the world throughout DC area.

Coming up next are some cuisines we are looking forward to.   Upcoming countries include: Ukraine, Greek, Kenya and Laotian!

-Matt

France: Fancy brunch

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I don’t think anyone will be surprised that France would be a fancy meal.  I think we all also know that Iggy Azalea was singing about me in “Fancy.”  So the most obvious choice for France would be to go fancy.

We made reservations for a place that we have heard is fantastic in the U Street area of DC, Le Diplomate. (http://lediplomatedc.com/)  Le Diplomate is a place that I actually enjoyed brunch in.

(begin rant)

Don’t let me get started on the total nonsense that is “brunch.”  To all of  you “brunchers” in this world, if its after noon, IT CAN’T BE BRUNCH!   That is either “Linner” or “Dunch” (both words I have patented.)  I was informed this is a NYC style that has now leaked to this area.  Please lets keep brunch before noon, where it belongs.

(end rant)

When we walked in there was not a wait but the place was packed.  They seated us in a type of sun room that was pleasantly romantic.  Before ordering they brought us a basket of bread that was so good, Zak the Baker would be jealous.

This brunch was outstanding.  I started it with a local beer, Atlas Brewery, version of a “La Saison des Fetes.”  A great tasting Saison with some French hops. Bridget had a French coffee. She said it was some of the best coffee she’s had in DC; it also helped that they gladly filled her cup when it ran low.

The actual food ordering process was not easy, mostly for me.  Mainly because I didn’t understand what half the words on the menu meant.  So we went crazy and just ordered what we thought was fun sounding, hence the Ratatouille I ordered.

Sadly there was no Ratatouille from the Disney movie making my order but I was pleasantly pleased with my decision.  Bridget got the Poached Eggs Basquaise, which came with creamy polenta in a cast iron skillet. What we did learn is that all French food is quite rich and creamy.

-Matt