Georgia and Tunisia: Cultures Collide at Compass Rose

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After reading this you all might be disappointed this is not Georgia in the Southern part of America.  And we are not writing about: Fried Chicken, Mac and Cheese, Collard Greens, Peach Pie, and Sweet Tea.  This is actually the eastern European country Georgia, sorry to disappoint.  It is a story about an Eastern European country coming together with a North African country cuisine in a DC eatery.  

Most nights I come from work and I see two dogs and a Bridget sound asleep.  Thankfully I got a rare night off and was able to meet Bridget out and about.  The best part about this night was that I met her at a venue we were looking at for our wedding.  Turns out it the perfect spot and a date was set!

Instead of ruining the surprise of where the wedding will be on here, I will leave it the invitations and most likely a Facebook status, I am just gonna skip to the cuisine.  We decided to head to a little place on U Street called Compass Rose (Compassrosedc.com).  I knew little to nothing about this place but have heard about an amazing Georgian specialty they served called, “Khachapuri.”  After watching a video on how it was made on DCist I had high expectations.  To make a long story short, it was AH-mazing.  (You’re still gonna get the long story anyways.)

After sitting down we noticed the menu had “specialties” and “street foods” from many different countries.   We figured it would be fun to add another country cuisine tonight by eating a street food.  Along with the Khachapuri we ordered Chicken Skewers that were Tunisian.

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Now I know what you are thinking, “Chicken Skewers?”  Well it wasn’t that it was just chicken skewers.  It was the seasoning they used, Peppadew pepper, and a very flavorful pea-nutty couscous.   The skewers came with a side of a pomegranate molassas to dip in.  Now this may not be a Tunisian “specialty” but being that is a common street food in this country,  I feel like I was there with this dish (OK not really.)

Now let me get to this Khachapuri.  If you like butter, if you like cheese, and if you like pizza then this is for you.  If you don’t like any of those three, we shouldn’t be friends and you should never read this blog again.  After eating the skewers and a few other side dishes, Bridget and I were mostly full.   Then our server brought out a what looked like to be a giant dough open-faced sandwich with cheese, raw egg and butter (tons of butter.)   We both said we’ll have one piece only.

The server prepared the dish and told us the egg cooked in the hot cheese, which it did.  She explained that in Georgian homes they eat it from the outside in, so we did the same.  We each had one piece.  And then we each had another. And another.  Very quickly the dish was gone and we were happily full.

After this meal the state of Georgia’s cuisine is a close second to the country Georgia.  (Don’t worry I will still eat fried chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens,  and peach pie)

-Matt

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Laos: Spicy Gourmet (guest post)

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The first question I asked when we ordered at Thip Khao was how hot the food was. I asked if the dishes listed as spicy were authentically hot. I’ve never gotten confirmation of this but I’m pretty confident that restaurants will sometimes tone down the high heat to make the food more broadly appealing. Completely understandable from a business perspective, but not what I was looking for in this case.

I was reassured that they have a level of heat on the menu called Phet E’Lee or Lao hot. Believe me, they did not disappoint. Now, I flew too high and both my wings and a part of my tongue melted, but don’t leave without getting at least one dish Lao hot.

Beyond the spice, these were the sorts of dishes that were so complex and flavorful that they make staples of the American diet like burgers and fries seem bland by comparison. Not to mention the variety of textures.

Do yourself a favor and start with the larb duck. Larb is basically a minced meat salad that is considered to be the national dish of Laos. Larb is also a good introduction to that spice I mentioned earlier since it’s on the hotter side without taking your face off like a horrible/amazing Nic Cage movie.

Next, let’s get a little weird with it. Grab the yum hu moo, otherwise known as steamed pig’s ear. Don’t let the description put you off, we’re essentially talking about the best pork rinds you’ve ever had. Get after it.

I’m not sure where you want to fit this in the meal but one of the best dishes at Thip Khao is the naem khao crispy rice salad. Crispy rice, coconut, lime and pickled pork…what’s not to enjoy?

-Michael Devito

Belize: Reviving the Home Cooked Cuisines

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After the disaster that was last night with Burmese we had low expectations for tonight’s cuisine.  The one big difference to tonight’s cuisine was that we didn’t have to make a paste to marinade the chicken.  Belize turned out to highly exceed our expectations and erased the disaster memory that was Burmese.

Belizean cuisine is a mix of latin flavors with a touch of Caribbean.   For the main dish we made a Kriol (Creole) food, stewed chicken. I marinated a whole chicken, cut up, in a red recado paste, otherwise known as Red Achiote Paste.  And RED it is; my fingernails were stained for 3 days.  I even have a pair of shoes with stains on them still.

The chicken would eventually be put in the crock pot and come out as stewed chicken.  To go with the chicken we made another Belizean staple: red beans and rice.  What gives this rice and beans its own flavor is the addition of coconut milk.  We made this from scratch and probably have enough for a small city in Belize.  Maybe the capital, Belmopan (who said you can’t learn during this challenge).

On the side we made what might be one of the best latin foods ever, fried green plantains.   After they were fried we threw in the same oil what probably would of been enjoyed by itself, Johnny Cakes!  Johnny Cakes are a mix of doughnut and biscuit.  If Bridget would of let me I would of fried these, put them on a plate and hid in the other room eating them without letting anyone else have any. Unfortunately, I had to share and give Bridget some too.

After a disappointing Sunday night, I was close to never wanting to cook another country’s cuisine again.  Our Belize dinner brought back my optimism of the cooking part of this challenge.  Latin/Caribbean flavors may be more up our alleys since we’re both from south Florida.  Whatever it was,  I now look forward to cooking another cuisine in the comforts of our kitchen.  (But maybe nothing near Burma.)

-Matt

Burma: Home Cooking Disaster

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Burma, dear Burma, I don’t dislike you.  I mean I hardly know you and I’m sure if I visited you I wouldn’t dislike your food.  However, after this night I will never attempt to cook Burmese at home again.

The only way to really tell you how bad this food was is to let you know at about 9:30PM we ordered Domino’s.

We spent the morning trying to find out what we should call the country, Burma or Myanmar.  This obviously took me longer than necessary.  I found out that Myanmar is what Burma is recognized as today.  We went with Burmese food since this was the cuisine for so long in this country.  Myanmar, as it is known as today, is only such after military control left in 2011.

Now that we all know about the history of Burma/Myanmar, lets get to the fun part of this story. We decided earlier in the day to go to an international grocery nearby in Maryland.  This grocery, which I can’t even find on Google Maps, has EVERYTHING!  Just about any international vegetable, fruit, or package you can find is sold here.  Bridget was ready to spend hours here (I felt like we did).

While shopping at this market we thought it would be good to prepare two cuisines over the next couple days.  Before we left Bridget randomly picked an Asian country.  For some reason, I still thinks she regrets it, she picked Burma.  We also shopped for the next night of cooking, Belizean cuisine.

I should of known looking at the ingredients and cooking directions how this night was going to go.  The “curry” chicken dish asked for shrimp paste.  It is exactly what you think it is, gross, and after using 2 teaspoons the bottle was trashed.  The chicken curry never really got that flavor we were looking for.  Other than it being totally bland, the shrimp paste made it have such a fishy flavor I could barely stand one bite.

The other entree we made was a beef curry with potatoes and okra.  This was another cluster of a mess that turned out to be a disaster of a dish as well.  The beef was slow cooked with a crushed powder that we had to make by hand.  This turned out to be a long process which gave the food no flavor.  Another thing that didn’t help was that we had no idea how to prepare the okra.  We just threw them in, which I realized after cooking was not the way to do it.

The two “curry” dishes were complete failures.  The only thing that came out slightly good was the prepackaged naan bread we bought.  Otherwise the 4 hours of preparing and cooking this Burmese cuisine was a total fail.

Thanks to Dominos we were able to feed our hanger (hunger + anger = hangry) and end the night full. I’m sorry to disappoint anyone that wants to come over for dinner, but we will not be having Burmese cuisine.  Trust me this is best for everyone.

-Matt

China: Days Inn Gourmet

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So if I said to you that the best Chinese food in DC is in a shady Days Inn, would you believe me?  Well I thought the same thing, HELL NO! This part of DC, a short strip on New York Ave with run down hotel chains and fast food drive ins has a reputation for being “not tourist friendly,” to say it lightly.

So I had to check this place out and make it a local trip to China with Panda Gourmet (http://pandagourmet.com/).

You drive up to this sketchy motel and see the bright neon signs for Panda Gourmet.  When you walk in, everything is in Chinese and no one speaks English – strong hints that I knew this was the place to be in DC for Chinese food.

Now of course the service was slow and the server didn’t speak much English. When the food is so damn good, who cares?  We started with what was suggested on review sites, a spicy wonton appetizer. They came afloat in a sauce that I wanted to drink when the wontons were done.

For entrees we ordered Mongolian lamb and double cooked pork.  The entrees were freaking delicious and makes me regret all the Chinese food I ate in Miami growing up.  Nothing down there can compare to the flavors of this place.  The fried rice was fantastic and could have been completely finished if not for feeling overly full.

Now if you grew up in Miami and were Jewish you went to New Chinatown every year for Christmas. If you aren’t one of these two things you just don’t get how important good Chinese food is. I personally could eat a bowl of lo mein or fried rice every night if allowed.

Panda Gourmet chews New Chinatown up and spits it out.  There is nothing better than going to a sketchy neighborhood, walking into sketchy motel, and ordering the best Chinese food in DC.  I will definitely come back here and suggest it to anyone that asks.  Plus we used a Groupon, how much more Jewish could I be

-Matt