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Top 5 Tastes: Chewing on Some Hype

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Every eatery on this list has enjoyed a degree of hype: In DC, Little Serow has become a city-wide foodie pilgrimage, Open City guarantees a lengthy (but warranted) wait every weekend morning, and Mintwood Place gained immense notoriety after a visit from Mr. Prez. As New Yorkers, we are so attuned to checking out (or badmouthing) the newest hip restaurants (or hybrid pastries...ahem cronut), that waiting outside an hour or two in advance seems less like a hazing process, than the necessary means to an end. The end, of course, involving either a bespoke tasting menu or down home shared plates, all interwebbed to 300 of your nearest and dearest friends. Hipster destination Roebling Tea Room and chicken-mongers Dirty Bird have both made the Eater-reading, Insta-nomming rounds from the start. But, you know what? In all these cases, I'm down with the hype. Sure, waiting's the worst, especially for an impatient youngest child as myself, but when it pays off, there's nothing like it.

1. Pork Ribs -- Little Serow (Washington, DC)
Johnny Monis' Thai joint Little Serow, while almost 2 years old, still retains the cachet that many New York restaurants experience only in their youth. After queuing from 5 to 5:30, we secured a table at the 7pm slot, but not after some heckling from passersby: "what are you waiting for?" "Wow, that better be good", they taunted us, as we stood, already feeling foolish outside an unmarked door. But good, it was, excellent in fact. Through a six-course bevy of dishes, ranging from the infernal chili-lime dip to a sultry ground Buffalo, Long Pepper and Lemongrass preparation, we took a mini-tour of Thailand, in the comfort of a sixties-inspired, turquoise-walled room. The most decadent of all was the last course which for me, was sadly relegated to a takeout box at home a few hours hence, as the first 5 courses had taken quite the toll on my stomach capacity. In any case, the ribs, prepared with Mekhong Whiskey, dill and a host of other flavors, were unbelievably supple, sliding off the bone on which they sat, and redolent of fragrant Thai herbs. They were as juicy as a well-prepared steak, but with a subtlety possible only with such a light meat. You played hard to get, Little Miss Serow, and it worked.

2. Mushroom Rueben--Open City (Washington, DC)
Screw brunch. You know my thoughts... conversation over. Luckily, restaurants often serve lunch offerings during scrambled-egg-Saturday-death-hour, and I cashed in on one such opportunity. Scoping the options, I was initially wary of a vegetarian sandwich, but after acknowledging that yes, I would be able to get in a startling number of calories between two crisp, buttery slices of bread, I was sold. The mix of garlicky sautéed Cremini, Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms, made for a hearty, earthy filling that didn't make me miss meat for a moment. Melty Swiss cheese, basil, baby spinach and onions provided layers of flavor, and those Reuben staples, Russian dressing and Sauerkraut brought it all together with deli-inspired panache. The crunchy bread, followed by salty, creamy, cheesy mushrooms made me that much more tolerant of the hollandaise-induced madness occurring around me.

3. Breakfast Succotash-- Mintwood Place (Washington, DC)
Yes, sometimes I order eggs, and yes, sometimes I like them. Rarely, but occasionally (to both points.) If they are left alone and perfectly cooked, I'll give them the time of day, and if they are delicately swaddled by a host of crisp, lightly cooked autumnal vegetables, I'm in. Fall Succotash surrounded an ideally prepared poached egg, and although I'm sure butter may have played some sort of role in this dish, the vegetables, which included radish, butternut squash, peas, and turnips remained fresh yet comforting, with a satisfying crunch.

4. Squid Appetizer--Roebling Tea Room (Brooklyn, NY)
A long overdue hangout sesh with a childhood friend warrants a tasty dinner involving many shared dishes. When this friend is similarly obsessed with food, it turns into an eating bonanza. We'd both brunched at Roebling many a time (in fact, my first visit was with her), but dinner was uncharted territory for us. Among other sublime tastes was the Squid appetizer, dressed with a number of Asian-inspired accoutrements. The sauce base was acidic and fragrant, and the perfectly toothsome grilled squid soaked up the juices most pleasantly. Crunchy peanuts adorned the plate, and though we couldn't seem to find it, apparently sea urchin was involved. Uni or no uni, the springy, dish was light, bright and very satisfying.

5. Cornbread - Dirty Bird To Go (Enjoyed on my Friend's Couch) (New York, NY)
Sometimes beauty is in the fixin's, and thus I found myself rhapsodizing about the cornbread which accompanied Dirty Bird chicken on a recent lazy Saturday morning. The chicken (I stuck to rotisserie in an attempt at health) was tender, juicy and flavorful, but the thick wedge of cornbread was nothing short of transcendental. The coarsely ground cornmeal exterior was crisp (likely buttered) and earthy, but fluffy and rich on the inside. It also came in small cubes atop our salad, and I scavenged aggressively for these croutons while my dining partner crunched down on his chicken fingers. Don't get cornfused, folks.