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DC area trip report: Latin Dim Sum, Zaytinya, Hai Duong, Hunan Palace

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For Thanksgiving my husband and I traveled from the San Francisco area to northern VA to visit relatives. We then stayed two nights in DC since it's been a while since we've toured the sights.

Since I enjoy unique dishes, I really wanted to try minibar but sadly it was closed on the nights we had free. When I heard that the Latin Dim Sum at Cafe Atlantico had some of the same dishes, I immedately made a reservation and showed up at lunchtime on Sunday. We ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu and in quick succession were brought 14 or 15 modern and traditional Latin dishes with a twist. Most dishes were quite small -- just a bite or two -- but fortunately at the end of the savory courses we were given an option to repeat the courses we liked best, else we would have left hungry. Our favorite dishes were the tuna ceviche with coconut, fried egg with black beans, pork belly confit, and pan dulce. While some of the dishes were quite delicious, overall the experience was just so-so, with some dishes being boring and others not quite working as well as they could. The most best part of the meal was the cocktails: the "Magic Mojito" was absolutely wonderful and quite the show, and the special Bloody Mary, while not that tasty, was an intriguing interplay of tomato water and celery salt foam.

For lunch the next day we stopped by the Breadline. The merguez sausage sandwich was good, but the chicken & goat cheese sandwich didn't quite work for me, with the French bread being a bit too crusty IMO for a sandwich and the flavor combinations not gelling well. I actually liked our lunch at the Corner Bakery, across the street from our hotel, better the next day -- the chile & chicken panini there was super delicious!

Despite being uncertain about Jose Andres after our Cafe Atlantico experience, we gave him another chance by going to Zaytinya for dinner on Monday. Zaytinya is a very different restaurant, with trendy decor, walls of glass and a Greek / Turkish influenced menu. We ordered a bunch of mezze, our favorites being the lamb chops, pipe dreams cheese, and zucchini/cheese patties. The crispy eggplant, duck, and dill shrimp ranged from boring to just okay. The wine list was intriguing, with selections from Lebanon which we've never seen. The meal was fine but we wouldn't be rushing back.

We also had cocktails Monday eve at POV, the rooftop bar at our hotel (the W) -- the view was absolutely amazing, and my Whiskey S'More cocktail (really a hot chocolate with Drambuie) was exceptionally good. The service was full of themselves, and my hubby's ginger beer cocktail was just okay, but I'd love to come back when it's warmer to admire the view again.

While in NOVA, we visited my husband's cousin and asked to be taken to the Eden Mall for dinner. As a side note, my husband and his cousin are both Vietnamese (I'm not). We were a bit disappointed that the mall itself was a standard Vietnamese strip mall, which are a dime a dozen in the SF area. At Hai Duong we ordered the fish skewers with dill (very prettily presented but a tiny portion, and not as delicious as our go-to place in San Jose's Century Mall), the curry goat (nice flavor but lacking depth, and some of the goat was tough and dry), and quail (large portion, really big quail) -- the quail were by far the star of the show. Most families around us were having noodle soups, so that might be the thing to get in addition to the quail.

My family is Chinese and have lived in the Mclean/Fairfax area for over 30 years, but for dinner they took us to their favorite Chinese restaurant, Hunan Palace, all the way out in Gaithersburg, Maryland. While nothing was outstandingly good, overall it was a very solid choice, with our favorite dishes being the spicy beef (the only traces of Hunan influence we saw in what otherwise seemed like a standard Cantonese banquet), the lobster, and the sweet rice with red bean dessert.

While nothing was outstanding except for a couple cocktails, DC definitely has a lot of solid restaurant choices, and the museums and sightseeing blow SF away. Next time we hope to get a table at minibar, and perhaps try out Komi, the Maine Ave fish market, and maybe one of the Ethopian restaurants!

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Cafe Atlantico
405 8th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

Komi
1509 17th St NW Ste 1, Washington, DC 20036

Zaytinya
701 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

Hunan Palace Restaurant
9011 Gaither Rd, Gaithersburg, MD 20877

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  1. Thanks for your extensive comments and feedback.

    ITA about the baguette at Breadline. Unfortunately, a baguette is never a good sandwich bread. Your jaw will hurt halfway through. For the French, sandwiches are always an afterthought. And boneless, skinless white chunks of chicken... bleh.

    There is a Hunan restaurant in Germantown, MD called Peking Palace. They have an extensive Hunan menu in Chinese only. Link:

    http://www.pekingpalace.us/index_file...

    I don't understand your comment about Eden Center.... There are three separate indoor 'malls' plus all the shops that face the parking lot. What did you expect? What are the strip malls in SF like? Are they as large as Eden Center? Check out the Eden Mall, Saigon East, and Saigon West links below:

    www.edencenter.com

    9 Replies
    1. re: Steve

      The Vietnamese malls in California are gigantic compared to Eden Center. The OP is correct. If you're used to the West Coast version, Eden Center will be a tremendous let down. When I lived in SoCal, the giant malls in Little Saigon in Westminster could fit in 2 or 3 Eden Centers.

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      Eden Center
      Falls Church, VA, USA, Falls Church, VA

      Little Saigon Restaurant
      6218 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22044

      1. re: Steve

        Baguettes can make good sammich breads; you just have to apply some heat and/or moisture to turn them into something else first.

        1. re: sweth

          You're probably right, but this is not the practice in France. In France, you will rarely see sandwiches on a menu. Everyone knows a cafe or bar has baguettes, ham and butter or paté, so no reason to list it. It's not like there are other options. You just ask.

          1. re: Steve

            It is very common to get sandwiches on baguette at lunchtime in bakeries in Paris. It is a very cheap lunch for many office workers and, in my opinion, delicious in its simplicity. Butter, good sausage, and cornichon on a baguette can't be beat.

            I love the baguette at Breadline and have now learned to always ask for it when I get sandwiches there. Absolutely adore it. To each his own!

            Also, I have to agree with the OP on Hai Duong. I thought the fish serving was very small!! And the curried goat was half fat. Good flavor, but searching through for pieces of actual meat was not all that appealing.

            1. re: hamster

              I may have to try Zattinya....sounds yummy

        2. re: Steve

          I've always enjoyed Breadline's sandwiches - the baguette bread is freshly made daily from 6 AM -Close and yes, the crust of the bread is crispy because it's supposed to be. The more crispy the crust, the better quality the baguette is. Breadline actually offers a variety of bread, both soft and crispy (their soft walnut wheat is my particular favorite). They also change their sandwiches daily as well as their soups and salads so I would suggest checking it out if you're particular taste is not for baguette.

          1. re: Jro3286

            I adore several of the Breadline sandwiches. I particularly love their ciabatta, though finally after so many years away from the influence of Mark Furstenberg, the quality has finally sliipped.

            What I am saying is that a baguette made properly isn't a good sandwich bread. It should have some toughness to it that makes unpleasant eating for a sandwich. Furthermore, in France sandwiches are truly an afterthought, eaten only for the sake of convenience.

            After years of hearing complaints about Breadline on Chowhound, I have noticed that most of them are about sandwiches on a baguette, particulalry the ones with white chunks of chicken (another sandwich no-no).

            1. re: Steve

              How can there be a sandwich "no-no?" That's just a ridiculous statement. Eating ans taste is each his owns.

              1. re: spinachandchocolate

                It's all about giving yourself the most likely opportunity to eat something delicious. Boneless, skinless white chunks of chicken? Sorry, but I'll take the Italian sausage, BBQ, Cubano, or Philly Cheesesteak anyday.

                So tell, me, can you name a great sandwich that features white chunks of chicken? Have you posted on Chowhound about it?

        3. Sorry you didn't enjoy any of your choices, maybe next time!

          1. I agree with the original post about the look of Eden Center. There are Vietnamese malls in Westminster, CA (south of LA) that are huge !!. The whole center is spread out over 20 square blocks. Also, for somebody whom has tasted the VN cuisine in California, the quality of the dishes at Eden Center restaurants are quite lame. Furthermore, the food servings in California are much larger and cheaper.
            My average restaurant bill (food only) in Westminster is about $20.00 for four persons compared to about $37.00 (also four persons) here.

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            Eden Center
            Falls Church, VA, USA, Falls Church, VA

            1 Reply
            1. re: Trungtr

              I can't comment on the food in Westminster, but I can comment of location, size, and real estate all of which effect the price.

              I asked what the OP was expecting. The expectation of finding a 20 square block Vietnamese strip mall in that location (well inside the beltway, near the metro) sounds odd to me. The LA equivalent in terms of real estate would be Culver City, not Westminster! Or going out to dinner anywhere in the DC area for an average $5 meal - well, people are spending more than that at a food truck. If you can name me anyplace in the DC metro area where the average check is $5 per person, then please don't keep it a secret!