Pork in adobo at Taqueria el Mexicano
Some weeks back I tipped you all to the mole poblano here.
I thought and sort of feared that Taqueria el Mexicano might be a one-hit wonder, like many small, family-run restaurants. Lots of fair to pretty good dishes, and then that one thing on the menu that stands above it all, so good that you have to go back again and again even though that’s the only thing you get.
Well, I can report, now, that the pork in adobo is just as remarkable.
Not hunks of pork, or slices of pork, either of which might have been dry, so that you end up concentrating more on the sauce than the meat. No: this is a large portion of rib meat, lusciously tender, like the best kind of low-and-slow-barbecue.
And then there’s the sauce, a rich, ruby-red that will stain your fingers for hours afterward. Hot, yes, but not too hot, a warm, spreading heat that doesn’t mask the flavors, which are so complex as to keep you eating long after you’ve had your fill, just to work out everything that’s in there.
Finally: the tortillas. The staffers say that they’re made with masa harina, not the shortcut stuff, and I believe them. These are coarse-ground, with a grainy texture that holds the sauce, unlike the manufactured kind, which are flat and slick and allow sauces to run out. And the flavor: a deep, pure taste of corn. As Ghibellina chef Jonathan Copeland tweeted me, after devouring the mole poblano a few weeks back: I could eat a stack of them every day.
Rice Krispie Treats at WTF
Upscale bakeries have been raiding the elementary school bake-sale table for ideas for years. But for some reason, Rice Krispie treats never took off in the way that cupcakes or brownies did. Probably, that’s because they’re at their best when they are in their most basic, utterly simple form—in other words, straight-up marshmallow and butter. No Valrhona chocolate dips, no painstakingly made caramels or obscure nuts or other add-ins.
Earlier this week, I had a belated birthday celebration at a dear friend’s apartment in Dupont. After her (killer) lasagna was cleared off the table, another pal brought out dessert. She’d stopped at WTF along the way, and picked up a sugary feast of creme brûlée doughnuts, chocolate-chip whoopie pies, and yes, Rice Krispie treats. All the sweets were super-tasty, but the Rice Krispie treat, which left a buttery sheen on my fingertips, is what I keep thinking about. It took me a few bites to realize what made it even more delicious than other marshmallowy versions—a faint hint of cinnamon, which came from what seemed to be squares of the world’s other greatest cereal creation, Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Shaanxi homemade noodles at Panda Gourmet
Panda Gourmet is far from a hidden gem—the Szechuan restaurant in a divey Days Inn Hotel on New York Avenue has long been a destination for Chinese food lovers looking for an inexpensive adventure within the confines of the District. Still you won’t find lines out the door. The experience isn’t for everyone. The large dining room is brightly lit, though not in a pleasant way. Service can be perfunctory, as is often the case when a language barrier exists between staff and guests. Go for superb Szechuan and Shaanxi dishes, and bottles of cold Tsingtao brought glassless to the table. Just don’t expect extra niceties.
A large menu includes the regular melange of Americanized Chinese dishes for mainstream tastes, and regional specialties for those in the know. Don’t bother with the former. We feasted on delicate cold dumplings in mouth-numbing chili oil; dan dan noodles scattered with minced beef; lamb sautéed with copious amounts of cumin and chilies; and the “Chinese burger” with pork, where the spicy roast meat is tucked inside a house-made flatbread similar to pita. Still the dish worth braving New York Ave. traffic for is the Shaanxi noodles. The light, hand-pulled ribbons are topped with bok choy, diced pork, and a heap of toasted garlic and chilies, all ready to be tossed in a fiery chili sauce (though you’ll have to convince the kitchen to really turn up the heat, toned down for Western palates). The flavors manage to be delicate and striking all at once–possibly the best dish ever served in a Days Inn.