On a recent trip to Washington D.C., I got to try some really good restaurants in the Crystal City area — where our hotel was. We were there for the 2015 Native American Journalists Association conference.
I flew in early and arrived early. I didn't have time for breakfast or lunch. As I checked into my hotel room, I asked the concierge where I could eat. He gave me a map of local restaurants and Kebab Palace drew my eye in. I had a mission when I learned it was a Middle Eastern restaurant.
When I got to the restaurant, I noticed it was pretty small and a little dingy. I came to a sign on the red building saying "Entrance" so I went in. I found myself in a hallway with brooms and cleaning supplies. That didn't deter me. I walked in like I was a frequent customer. "It's OK, I come in the back door all the time."
It happened to be their lunch buffet time (at 2 p.m.). I did an inner squeal for joy as I looked down the buffet line and saw silver trays of basmati rice, qorma, biryani, kebabs, saag paneer and naan. I filled up on those items, as you can see by the photo below:
For $14, this was the best thing I had in DC. I had double servings of the goat biryani, a stewed dish with spices. That was my favorite. The meat was a little fatty, but it was easy to separate the fat with my plastic spoon.
The naan bread was tough and kind of tasteless, though. I felt bad for throwing most of it away. My strategy was to sacrifice the bread so I can fit more tasty things. The rice was tasty and I think it was flavored with some kind of meat broth. That's fine, it was delicious. But with my Middle Eastern dishes I like a plain, tight basmati rice. This rice was not that tight, it was kind of soft. Middle Easterners know their rice. It's their science and magic. I've had some beautiful, delicious rice before and the rice at Kebab Palace was not at that level. It's OK, I can tell it was a different style and probably from a different country that I haven't tried before.
My sister and I headed out of Crystal City to Chinatown where every block was packed with Asian restaurants and good smells. At a random guess, we stopped at Tony Cheng's Seafood. This place looks like a Hollywood Chinese restaurant. I could imagine a gun fight breaking out at any moment or a bad drug deal going on in the back room. We tried the five-meat platter with vegetable fried rice, pictured below.
The five-meat platter included roast duck, shrimp, scallops, calamari, pork and chicken. Oh, that's 6 meats... It had a brown sauce that sort of got in the way of the meaty flavors. I loved it though. I was worried, at first, about all these meats being together and fighting over my taste buds, but they behaved themselves and were not cooked together.
I had the best steamed dumplings at Tony Cheng's. They're an appetizer that costs about $4 and you get six of them. Just try them.
We also had some Thai food at Urban Thai in Crystal City. Pictured in the forefront is the chicken and potato curry. The other dish is drunken noodles. Both were surprisingly refreshing. The curry was incredibly savory; a mix of sweet coconut milk and savory curry and Thai spices. I could eat that kind of curry for days. The fresh garnish of cucumber and red onion provided a welcome crunch and juiciness to the dish.
The drunken noodles were pleasantly spicy; very spicy. The noodles were very wide (I think they were cut up egg roll wrappers) and held a lot of spice and flavor from the chicken and stir-fried vegetables. There was a mix of smokey, grilled chicken flavor with sweet and salty tones from the spices. The basil leaves that were mixed in added a burst of basil flavor that soothed the high and low notes in this dish.
DC was an adventure and a tasty one. If you're out having an adventure in a different city, or obligated to attend a conference, go out and explore. Even if it's just one dish per day, make it something that you probably can't find at home. If you're near the sea, have some seafood, if you're in the desert, have some chile. When you go home, it's going to taste the same way it always did. (Then again, you're blessed if you live in a diverse city where the world is at the tip of your tongue.)