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Sep 13, 2000 02:25 AM

Yo -- Del Ray!

  • j

Had another fabulous meal the other night at Monroe's (corner Monroe and Commonwealth in Del Ray, Alex'ria). Here's the scoop: forget the crayons and the butcher paper (can you say "Ernie's" on 75 and B'Way?); pour yourself a glass of the drinkable and affordable ($2.75 per; sorry Jim Leff, I consider costs (pace my friend who eats at the 4 Seasons)) house chianti, which sits in a magnum at your side; and order the delectable calamari: dusted with flour, barely sauteed, and served with a lemon/grigio/butter dipping sauce, a far cry (thank you!) from the crunch-o-matic smother-me-with-marinara sauce calamari that dominates what passes for DC 'eye-tye food). My companion had the fried mozzarella, a nice hunk of cheese with a schtarckle of lemon juice of a light-ish tomato sauce to dip (here, perfectly appropriate). For mains, lots available at Monroe's: pizzas; veal all ways; seen rabbit here, too, and the specials usually include something adventuresome. ('course, the mains on the regular menu are top-heavy with boneless chicken breast). But the entrees are eminently reasonable, typically not more than $20. Me and the companion had pastas: I, the frutti di mare (here called something like "spezziali di mare"), a soothing melange of shrimp, (sea) scallops, 2 clams (I mention the number for information, not to carp; the portion was perfectly large), 2 musselles (see previous), and a decent heft of salmon, all in a lobster-based cream sauce that was (mercifully) light on the cream and added a dollop of fresh chopped tomato. For a killer app, don't miss the "Monroe's Bread": oven-baked foccaccia sprinkled with olio and salt and pepper and thyme, served with your choice (each additional will cost you) of tapenade and others (caponata and pesto), the tapenade being the bestest. Great date place, too, did I mention?

Next post will be why DC is Chowhound Hell. (Does any restaurant in this town, aside from Rocklands G-Town; Rocklands CarPool; and RT's Courthouse, serve any single other brand of sauce other than Tabasco???!!!????? Help me, Jim Zurer!

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  1. Several years ago I used to enjoy the occasional meal at the Calvert Grill. Haven't been there since they changed ownership.

    RT's is good, right? Haven't been there myself. How about Los Amigos? I used to waddle out of there, swearing I'd order less food next time. Never happened, of course.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Jim Dorsch

      Jim Dorsch rightly mentions the Calvert Grille, which was the original Del Ray draw (Mt. Vernon Ave, in the Calvert apartment building, which may well have been transplanted from East Berlin circa 1960, alas). But Jim D. also mentions the change in ownership, and unfortunately the Grille is no longer worth a visit. Burgers are still edible; but everything else is pre-preprepared, then nuked (but don't let *that* speed up the service!). Had a softshell sandwich there recently, and big mistake: battered and fried at least two days before, then fried again. (And tiny, too, which is inexcusable in softie season.) Barely edible, once you got past the frito-like coating (a toasty brown, which on a soft shell is precisely *not* what you want). Then I tried a pulled pork sandwich: chewy-rubbery pork butt, with flat sauce (Kraft? your call) and Safeway deluxe slaw. Move on. The only saving grace is the list of microbrews, but unless you live in the Stalin apartments -- Calvert, excuse me -- there's no point in drinking there since there's little to eat. Two other points: 1, Sunday brunch is a disaster, service-wise, with far too few waitrons serving the pre-Skins crowd; and 2, don't be tempted by the blue plate specials, which are left over from the old days.

      RT's. Clinton and Clinton once stopped by, and (Dee Cee being what it is) it's been crowded since. (Remember what G. Bush did for Rio Grande in Bethesda?) Not wholly undeservedly: the cajun-ish seafood is fine, if pricy, and fresh. And if you're heading for a show at the Birchmere, not to many other options. But I much, much prefer RT's Seafood Kitchen (Wilson Blvd at the Courthouse), which (1) is cheaper, by magnitudes, and (2) serves up a simpler, but no less elegant cajun seafood-y menu. Try the po'boys (esp. catfish), which would be respectable in N'awlins; and the she-crab soup.

      Back to Del Ray. Monroe's is still my number 1 pick, but more suggestions welcome!

      1. re: John

        The Calvert used to have great servers under the former owners. They were friendly, quirky, no doubt a reflection of the nice folks who presided.

        I haven't eaten at the Birchmere, but I've heard the food is worth trying now that Ralph Capobianco of King St Blues took over the restaurant side. And they, too, should have a decent selection of microbrews. Of course, Native Brewing Co is right there in the building. Alas, the law requires them to ship their kegs out to Chantilly, so Premium Distributors can cart them right back to the other end of the building.

        1. re: Jim Dorsch

          The Evening Star, on Mt Vernon (near Glebe; go west off Jeff Davis Hwy and you'll find it) is a nice spot for an all-American meal, especially if you're Birchmere-bound. Entrees range from burgers to lamb chops, all priced accordingly. Cute bar in back, too, with live music on weekends.

          1. re: John

            Had lunch today (Sat) at the Evening Star (Mt. Vernon Ave, just north of Los Amigos). Superb! Muffaletta, scrunched on a French sandwich press, with fresh sliced ham, salami, pepperoni (from an Italian butcher in Rockville -- I asked), provolone, and a chunky green olive tapenade. Served with crisp, seasoned fries (excellent) and home-made slaw (not so excellent; mainly cabbage and carrots, but too much mayo and rather bland; could've used lemon juice, pepper, some hot sauce, etc.) My companion had the wrap of the day: thinly-sliced smoked turkey (same guy in Rockville; wished I asked where) with swiss cheese and caramelized onions. My first time for lunch at the Star, and a delight. We sat outdoors at the industrial strength steel chairs, breezy Dee Cee day, people watching (such as it is in Del Ray, but hey!). Prices are eminently fair for generous portions, my muffaletta at $6.95, the wrap the same, burgers available at $5.50, soup at $3. Can't wait for Sunday brunch! (For dinner, try the wine shop next door and brown-bag your bottle.)

            Next stop on my Del Ray "hard day's night" tour: Los Amigos. Will report.

            1. re: John

              To be avoided! I decided to give it one last try -- call me nostalgic, but I had a decent brunch there during the Bush administration --, after multiplicious disappointments, and Calvert Grille didn't fail me: it was deeply disappointing. The "Sante Fe burger," supposedly a speciality, consisted of a frozen hockey-puck patty fried up on a grill so that it was hot and gray outside, cool and gray inside; shredded cheddar cheese (Kraft, methinks), with the day-glo shreds in that starting-to-melt-but-recoagulating stage that bespeaks a careless fry cook; sliced mild green chiles straight from the can! (Ortega?); and an ice-cream scoop of some of the worst potato salad I've ever had (and I've had some dogs): mushy 1/2" square cubes with mayo, flecks of red pepper, and absolutely no seasoning -- which let the bizzare metalic flavor shine through unadulterated. The meal was utterly inedible, and not cheap. I won't return, and those who visit do so at their peril.
              Sorry for the negative report, but the WashPost always raves about this place -- not that Phyllis Richman ever set foot in the jernt -- and it's once of the worst dining experiences you can have in a city that's full of them. (Bad dining experiences, that is, but don't get me started.)

              1. re: John

                I never could understand the attraction of Calvert Grille - it was always packed, but the food was not great. There is an Indian place next door to the Calvert Grille, I think its called the Bombay Bistro, and it used to be decent Indian food. No Haandi, but very good for the neighborhood. Of course, I pretty much stick with the Lamb vindaloo, (nice and spicy!). Also, at RT's, they don't always have it on the menu, but the lamb chops are yummy. They used to offer it as a special, but if you ask, they will make it for you (am I starting a lamb theme?). Ok, I haven't lived in the Del Ray area for more than a year, so I can't give you up to date info, but I do miss it. I was never a huge Los Amigos fan, but there is a small taco place on Mt. Vernon Ave, on the other side of the street, that we went to with some friends earlier this year, and it was tasty and cheap. Not a gigantic menu, and most everything was ala carte, but fresh and good.
                Enjoy Del Ray! Now I'm stuck in southern MD, where if it isn't deep fried, you can't get it.

                1. re: Amy

                  My warmest thanks to Amy for chiming in on the Del Ray thread -- and not only because she agrees with my take on the Calvert Grille: gonna try the Indian place, for one thing. thanks, Aim.

                  1. re: John

                    I lived in the Del Ray area until about two years ago, and I loved the Bombay Curry Company. I can't remember being disappointed with anything, but I especially recommend everything I can remember: saag paneer (spicy spinch with cheese cubes), butter chicken, the very spicy garbanzo beans (I think they are called "chole") and the biryanis (an Indian version of fried rice). And you can laugh at the trendy looking folks in the Calvert Grille who, if you look closely, are not eating.

            2. re: John

              is the muffaletta at evening star on the right kind of bread?

            3. re: Jim Dorsch

              I wouldn't go to the Birchmere just for a meal, but if you want to hear good music, you can go early, get a good seat, and pass the time until showtime eating food that is better than bar-food, and much better than the old Birchmere. I recommend the fried catfish sandwich. For a change I tried the chicken pot pie, but it was more like chicken stew with a light, puffy, roll plopped on top.

        2. The place across the street from Los Amigos is Taqueria Poblano, definitely worth a trip. Great margs on the rocks and the tacos are delicious and very reasonable.

          I will also throw in a plug for Evening Star--because of their relationship with Planet Wine next door they have a huge and very reasonably-priced wine list. The food is consistently good, and you can make a good-sized (and less expensive) meal from a couple of appetizers. They often look better to me than the entrees!

          2 Replies
          1. re: abbycooks

            If eating in Del Ray I would personally opt for Fireflies. It's new, right? Good freshly prepared food and pizzas. Not a huge menu - a good thing, because the microwave plays no part here -- but it has very good wine and beer list, casual atmosphere, and intermittently wonderful service. There is also Vaso's greek restaurant, just now opened in the former Dixie Pig building, not quite in Del Ray but just the other side of Rte. 1 in the Monroe/Powhatan area. Again, freshly prepared food like your Mom would make (if she were from Santorini), nothing shocking here but a nice neighborhood feel and the owner is likely to come out and say hello if she's not busy putting bechamel on a moussaka. The stuffed grape leaves are also really good.

            1. re: abbycooks

              I've been in that Taco Poblano a few times, and more than once I've walked out after being seated, waited, waited, and waited for someone to take my order. It's not been a particularly busy time, I don't know what the problem was. Maybe I just didn't look like a big spender.

              I've been to the branch in Arlington (Lee Highway & Harrison Street shopping center) and the food and service has always been good there.

            2. No one has mentioned Del Merei - it's in between the Calvert Grille (yuck!) and Bombay Curry (yum!). Del Merei has a fantastic menu (choose your meat/fish/portobella, then choose your sauce, then choose your sides) and is very reasonably priced. They are known for their "frickles" - fried pickels. Decent wine list and bar, too.

              ALSO - Skip Los Amigos. It's pretty standard; nothing special. Instead of going to Taqueria Pablano (which has good food and so-so service), try Los Tios. It's about a block north of Taqueria on Mt. Vernon and on the other side of the street. It's Tex-Mex and Salvadorean and FANTASTIC. VERY reasonably priced - don't miss it!

              1 Reply
              1. re: raho

                Del Merie isn't "between the Calvert Grille" is in what used to be the Calvert Grille.

              2. I agree - in Del Ray - the Del Merie Grille is the place to go. It is the epitome of a neighborhood restaurant. Locally owned, friendly service, resaonable prices, great food, nice atmoshphere - just perfect! And, the frickles are NOT to be missed!

                I also love the Taqueria Poblano. It's interesting to read of the person who has had problems with service there. I've never experienced that and have been going there for years. Actually, I've had service problems at Los Tios. I've only gone once and won't be back. It was so evident that if you are not a "regular" you're not given good service. And, I didn't think the food quality was worth it to become a regular and frankly, I thought everything was over-priced.

                Another good choice is Hector's Place (iin the Calvert Shopping Center). Very good, fresh, homemade italian fare. Very reasonable prices. I worry they won't last long as they are never very busy.

                I'd like to try Fireflies, but have to say, I can't figure out when they are ever open. Seems like whenever I drive by, they're closed - can't be good for business!