Trip Report - Silver Spring MD area - Ray's the Classics, Nando's Peri Peri & Iron Age Asian Grill
First I'd like to thank everyone who helped me with restaurant suggestions. We didn't make it to many of the places that were mentioned, but that doesn't mean we didn't value every contribution. In fact we liked the general area so much we've decided to put Silver Spring it on our list of places to go for quick weekends away and have saved all of your restaurant suggestions for later trips to the area. We figure between dining choices and the proximity to DC we can find tons of stuff to do in the area whenever we venture down.
On our drive down from Delaware we left about when I expected we would, give or take a few minutes and my calculations were right that even with what I thought was incredibly good traffic we never would have made R&R Taqueria anywhere near in time to eat. I still want to try it, just to say I've tried it but its going to have to wait for another trip. We made an honest attempt to eat at Samos Restaurant in Baltimore, but when we arrived just before 8pm we realized it simply wasn't going to happen. The restaurant was supposed to close at 9pm, and forget the inability to park there were people waiting outside the restaurant to get in. Not to mention when you looked in the windows all you could see was people standing waiting to be seated, they were packed right up to the door. Reluctantly we decided even if we could have found parking we were not going to be seated in time to eat.
After a few quick minutes of discussion we decided to press on to Silver Spring and eat there. The drive wasn't bad and we found ourselves outside Ray's The Classics by just before 9pm. This was going to be our pre-concert meal but we figured it might be a bit heavy before the metal concert so we decided if we needed to eat dinner before the show we'd try the Thai place next door (Kao-Thai?). It only took a little while to get seated at the Bistro side of Rays, and what followed was definitely a top 20 if not top 10 meal in recent memory. Sometimes you just have a great dining experience, from the food to the service to the ambiance and even your own mood while enjoying it. This was one of those nights. Our waiter was a gem, absolutely loved him. I forget his name offhand, its on the receipt which I don't have nearby atm, but he was just great. When we were walking past the next night after the concert in our full concert gear he happened to look out the window and saw us and waved enthusiastically at us. It was nice, you wouldn't expect it necessarily but we won't forget it. Anyway, on to the food which is the real purpose. I ordered the Bistro special with the Crab Bisque and the Hanger Steak and decided to add the Brandy Mushroom Cream Sauce to my steak. The Crab Bisque was everything you hope it will be and it usually isn't. The Soup itself was so good I honestly didn't care if there was any actual pieces of crab in it, and yet there they were at the bottom, lovely big pieces of real lump crab meat, not little bits and shreds. I wasn't sure about ordering the Hanger Steak my preferred Rare, I'd never had a real Hanger steak but I knew it comes with a bit more chew for which you're rewarded with a bit more flavor. A quick consult with our waiter convinced me it would be just fine rare, so I went with it. He did ask if I wanted sauces, but didn't try to do a hard sell. I had already decided I wanted the Brandy Mushroom Cream sauce and I was happy to find when the bill arrived it was only $1 extra. My steak came out gorgeous looking, exactly rare as ordered, and was perfect. The cream sauce didn't cover up the flavor of the steak but added a nice touch to it. In fact if they served that sauce in a bowl I'd order it, I was a little disappointed I couldn't lick my plate. I loved the texture of the Hanger steak, it reminded me a little of the crunchy black asian mushrooms I adore that are the only reason I ever order mu shu anything. I don't know how to quite describe it, but you get a nice chew and then it gives way to a soft meatiness with some resiliance that is very pleasant. You don't feel like you're getting a workout for the jaw or anything, but there's a sense of substance to it all.
Hubby went for the Diablo Strip with the spicy garlic sauce in a Medium Rare. He ate more of it then I thought he was going to manage and was whining he couldn't finish the rest. Of course the reason he couldn't finish it all was he kept taking more and more of the creamed spinach and mashed potatoes that were complimentary with the steaks in the Bistro. They were both quite good, at first we thought the creamed spinach was a bit less assertively flavored then it sometimes can be but after awhile we realized it was a perfect supporting role to the steaks and was letting them shine. Lets face it, if your favourite part of a steak dinner is the creamed spinach (and this has happened to me) then something was wrong with the steaks, or at least not as right as it could be. Since I typically leave some of my starches behind to eat more steak etc I finished up hubby's Diablo Strip for him. I also liked it, I think I preferred mine slightly but it would somewhat depend on the mood I was in that night and if I wanted spicy or creamy. Needless to say none went to waste, as did any of the creamed spinach or the mashed potatoes including the refill of potatoes they offered us and hubby accepted.
Oh I forgot - the complimentary bread was good, had a nice seasoning to it. And the spiced cashews were a complete hit with hubby and I. I think next time I might have to order a cocktail to go with them.
They had a couple of desserts on offer, and I found myself a bit torn between them. Had they been in season I doubt anything could have been better then the strawberries with whipped cream but alas it was November and I know better. Key Lime Tart looked to be correctly made but ultimately we went with the Dark Chocolate Mousse. I'd seen one go buy and knew it was real Mousse and not fancified pudding with a name change. When I ordered it Hubby asked if I wanted to share or should he order his own. Our waiter didn't even try to stifle his chuckles when I replied that WOULD share, but he should feel free to order one for himself. He gave Hubby a bit of a gentle elbow and told him he thought the Lady had made her preference known and he'd make that 2 Dark Chocolate Mousses. It turned out to be the correct choice, since neither of us would have been happy with half. It was as advertised Dark Chocolate, gently sweetened, with real whipped cream on top and a slice of strawberry. And like everything else we ate that night I probably have had a slightly better version somewhere once, but when you combined it with everything else the consistent level of high quality throughout the meal made for a top dining experience.
When the bill arrived and came with two pieces of house made candy all Hubby and I could do was look at each other and start quoting the Monty Python line about "just a little wafer". There was no explosion but we did waddle slowly back to our car completely satisfied with everything.
I promise I'll review Nandos and Iron Age later today/tonight. They'll be shorter reviews and the cliff notes version is we had a great time at both of them and enjoyed the food. Although neither was quite as wonderful as Ray's. We do really wish they'd open a Nando's out our way.
Yes, I apologize - the Holiday's caught me there for a few days.
The next morning we were supposed to go to the Crime Museum and I was going to let Hubby pick between Oyamel and Zaytinya depending on which cuisine he felt like that day. But you know what? One of the glories of a vacation is you can do anything you darn well want to, and that includes NOT doing things. We both slept in, woke up a few times, and pretty much kept sleeping in. By the time we roused our sleepy little heads and puttered around a bit on the hotel Wifi we decided to scrap that plan and save the Museum for the next trip. By now Hubby was so enamored with Ray's he'd said he'd like to come back to the area for another weekend jaunt some time soon and we could do it then. Typically we go rural (Lancaster, Poconos etc) vs Urban for our weekends because he hates cities but he didn't mind Silver Spring.
A minor note on our hotel - Comfort Inn Georgia Ave/DC Gateway. If you've spent a lifetime in budget hotels its not a bad choice. They were in the middle of an upgrade/renovation so we had the new headboards and some other bits of furniture neatly tucked in corners of our room but it didn't get in the way. Room was spotlessly clean, staff was friendly, wifi worked, parking was only $10 a day, had a nice flat screen tv and fridge/microwave etc. When they finish installing the new furniture and redoing the wallpaper etc it should look really nice. They'd already upgraded the linens to the new style with the duvet covered in 2 sheets which is so much better then beadspreads, and I think it was 4 pillows per bed? I mention this for future travelers - its NOT a luxury hotel but for the price we paid we'll definitely return because it suited us just fine and every $ saved was one we could spend guilt free at a good restaurant.
Separating the review of Nando's Peri-Peri from the above so if somebody wants to link to it in the future they don't have to slog through the other bits....
We wandered down to Nando's Peri-Peri which was on a bit of a pedestrian street/shopping center area. Parking was pretty close in a garage, and free because it was the weekend.
I really wish we had this chain up where we live, we've got Peruvian Chicken and a few other places which I haven't tried but understand to be somewhat similar in that they all involve some sort of grilled/roasted chicken with garlic/chili. I liked the funky decor, the music was ok if you liked world-beat type music and the staff was all very friendly and helpful. I found the ordering system a pinch confusing in that you had to wait to be seated, then you were given menus and told to figure out what you wanted and then go up to the counter and order, telling the person there what table you were seated at. Then you went and got your drinks, silverware, sauces etc and they brought your food to your table. It makes sense once you do it, but we weren't the only confused tourists trying to figure out how to do stuff. I kept seeing people get in line without getting a table, or sit at a table and get cranky when they were told that a waitress wouldn't be by etc.
We started with an order of the Peri-Peri nuts which were almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts in their spice blend. These were great to munch on while we waited for our chicken. We liked them so much I told Hubby he could go up and order 2 more orders for take out when we were done and we brought them back home for when we're watching football. The menu doesn't list all of the soft drinks they have, so I'd ordered an iced tea because I'm not really a diet coke girl only to walk up and find they had coke zero at the fountain and a few other choices (light Minute Maid I think). So since it was the same price, I got my coke zero and was happy. Interestingly enough it appears they have you different shaped glasses for soda or iced tea.
Hubby got the Flame Grilled Butterfly Chicken Breast with "Crispy" skin and a side of mashed potatoes. They warned him when he ordered the Chicken Breasts were running a bit smaller then the menu suggested, I think perhaps they were taking 1 larger breast and butterflying it and grilling it vs 2 smaller ones due to costs. Whatever they were doing he had 2 pieces of chicken and they were enough for him to eat so I suppose it does't really matter. He got his Hot and thought that was about the right heat level. He could eat the Extra Hot, we tried some of it on the side but we both felt it had too much of the bitterness chilies can impart for our tastes. He's not a bone-in kinda guy for chicken so this was a good choice for him and there was plenty of food. The mashed potatoes were good he said, but not Ray's good. He doesn't like chicken skin, so he gave me his but only a few bits of it were really crispy so I only ate a bite or two. I love crispy chicken skin, but it has to be genuinely crispy and this was just a bit short.
I got the 1/2 chicken with Medium Heat, mostly because I could not make up my mind between getting wings, or getting 1/4 dark meat. I'm just a dark-meat girl but I really wanted to try the wings and the only way to do that was to get full on wings, order the 1/4 white meat meal, or get the 1/2 chicken. I'm picky about wings and if the skin is flabby and fatty I simply can't eat them and I didn't want to risk that so 1/2 chicken it was. I figured I could always give extra white meat to Hubby if the order-taker's comment about his chicken breasts being smaller was true. Instead of the regular sides I ordered the Deluxe side of Butternut Squash and Grilled corn, which also had red onions (few too many perhaps), cranberries and herbs with chilies. It was really good and you probably could share it if you wanted to but I was feeling a little veggie deprived and was pretty sure we were going to do Iron Age that night so I felt the need to sock away some veggies between 2 mostly meat meals. I think the squash was a tiny bit mushy for my tastes, and I could have done with a couple less red onions which had turn that slightly ugly purple/brown color they can turn when cooked. Still, picking around the onions it was nicely seasoned and felt healthy, until I reached the bottom of the bowl and saw the oil puddle. Not quite enough to put me off eating it, but enough that I was glad it had drained down there and I left a few bits of various vegetables that were sitting in it. My chicken was good, the white meat was moist like Hubby's was and despite the fact the Hot wasn't too hot for me, I did prefer the Medium sauce because of the overall balance between the chilies and the other flavors. It was a bit more fruity and herbal tasting. The skin on my drumstick and wing were crispy enough to eat, except for the fattest bit of skin on the wing, which I often pick off and fling to the side when eating wings anyway. The breast and thigh skin also had some nice crispy bits around the edges and was relatively well rendered and I ate some of it, but I left some too.
I had planned on getting dessert, but we were too full to enjoy it then. We ended up wandering up and down the shopping area and (blush) stopping at Starbucks for their buy 1 get 1 free Holiday Drink Happy Hour. Where I promptly did a little squeal of glee at seeing the first of the Gingerbread for the Holiday and got a slice to take back to the room. I like that they put candied citrus peels on it. There might also have been an oatmeal cookie and a snowman cookie that went along for the ride. We'll chalk that up to an early burst of Holiday spirit.
Last up - Iron Age Asian Grill. When we got out of the concert is was approaching midnight and we had 2 choices, the Tastee Diner or here. While diner food is normally pretty good after a rock/metal concert, particularly if you've had a drink or two along the way we decided against that for 1 simple reason. It was way too close to the venue. Or more specifically it was about to be slammed by a ton of other concert goers, some of whom were probably really drunk and may or may not be on their best behavior. Personally I found everyone I interacted with at the concert to be lovely, but at least part of that is because when your demographic is running somewhere around 90% male and 10% female most of the guys are just in awe there's a female fan there and treat them accordingly and with great respect. Having said that we figured the diner would be slammed and depending on how the staff felt about the other concert goers, or concert goers in general we might not have as good a meal as we would elsewhere.
So off to Rockville we went, it wasn't a bad drive at that time of night, I think it took about 10-15 minutes. I'll chalk it up to the mood I was in perhaps, but I loved the design of the restaurant. Half Iron Chef, half American Idol... Hubby had a far more dubious look on his face but I promised him he'd either like it, or get mega points for humoring me.
The staff, particularly our waitress was very friendly and welcoming and explained stuff reasonably well. We picked option B and I told her that Hubby couldn't eat pork so she only brought us beef and chicken for our meats. We did tell her we liked Korean food, but hadn't ever had proper Korean BBQ where you do it yourself, only the pre-assembled kind so she made sure she checked on us frequently, and taught us when to turn the meat etc. She swore up and down that a. we'd get the hang of it, and b. she spends most of her time being a fire fighter so to not worry she'd take care of us until we were comfortable with the process and that it was her job after all. She implied that first timers are easier then some of the large groups of drunk guys she gets late at night and that she was looking forward to making our dinner a success.
Hubby was still dubious, but he warmed up a little when I promised him that she or I would handle all of the grilling, I'd taste every single item before he did so he didn't get any pork by mistake, or any seafood or well anything he's not into. And that I'd either ask the waitress what stuff was for him, or tell him what it was/tasted like etc. He also brightened up when I asked her apologetically for forks saying as much as he liked the food, he'd like it better with a backup to the chopsticks. Again, she was very nice, and I don't know how many of their customers ask for forks but she acted like it happened all the time. At home a lot of the Asian restaurants go the other way, the assume if you're white you're using them and you have to ask for the chopsticks even if you know how to handle them.
Our first tray of meat had chicken, a marinated beef, and a non-marinated beef. I didn't see any evidence they still offer duck or intestines, we'd have eaten the duck. The rice was served in a bowl, not in the shapes to grill like some other diners have mentioned. They gave you 4 dipping sauces of which I liked the chili paste one the best, and a whole bunch side dishes. Hubby loved the lettuce dressed with what I think was a mixture of mirin or rice wine vinegar and Gochujang. I didn't ask the waitress, but that was my guess. He thought the potato salad was really weird as an offering, but he enjoyed eating it so I let him have most of it. I liked the pancake they brought out, which I had read had some seafood in it, and from what I could taste that seemed correct but please don't ask me what kind, or how. It was just an oceanic backnote to the rest of the flavors. The various types of picked veggies all went over well with us as we like that sort of thing. The waitress had to stifle some giggles when we explained that while we didn't have a lot of Korean restaurants near us, we could get decent kimchi in various styles at our local Mercado and we also were able to get Korean tv programming, which I watched. Frankly I was surprised Hubby liked the soup with Tofu in it, but he did and he gobbled most of it up while I was grilling the meat. We did get a second platter of marinated beef, and she offered us a bunch of other things but it was late and we didn't want to stuff ourselves as full as we might have if we weren't planning on going straight to bed. She pouted a bit when we didn't order even more meat, hopefully when we return in the future we can do her proud.
I'd say even though we were DIY Korean BBQ Virgins, the only awkward moment of the evening was when my Hubby recognized a Korean Pop song and could not figure out how the heck that could happen. He watches the Korean TV with me sometimes, but the only K-Pop song he thought he'd ever heard in his life was Psy's Gangnam Style. I then had to confess I sometimes listen to a bit of K-Pop late at night when he's sleeping and I'm surfing the internet and um, yeah I recognized more of the songs then I wanted to admit. Since we'd just come from the Lamb of God concert with Hatebreed etc, that was a bit awkward... Oh well, 2am around a mountain of sizzling meat is as good a time as any to confess to guilty little pleasures and secrets.
I completely understand why some people say there's better Korean food around, and how its quantity over quality and all that, but it worked out perfectly for us. We did have a good meal, we did have fun, and we got to experience something new to us. Now Hubby 's interested in trying some of the various restaurants that do this closer to home and I think he'll enjoy them. They're not all you can eat so he'll get a slightly more careful version of things but we've gotten over the strangeness of the experience and won't feel like complete rookies when we go.
I know he liked it more then he expressed verbally cause he asked the waitress the directions to the Hmart and told me he wanted to make sure we went so I could get anything I wanted (that would survive the car ride home). As such I've got some of those hideously expensive Asian Pears shipped from Korea now, and a new tub of Gochujang paste (he specifically asked me what I'd need to do to make that lettuce), plus the other ingredients I'd need to season Kalbi among other things. Hubby's not a talk about food kinda guy, but if he's whipping out the debit card and saying "buy whatever you want babe", then he was happy.
So thanks again for all the suggestions. Anything we didn't make it to this time is on the list for next time. All of the places we visited this time are also on that list. Darn it, we're going to need to go for more then 48 hours!
And purely as a confession, and please don't take away my Chowhound membership. For Sunday, we skipped the fancy brunch, did the above mentioned Hmart run and then hit the outlets near Baltimore. I was going to suggest the brew pub there, but as much as we love trying small chains and unique restaurants we do also like trying bigger chains we've never been to before. If only so we can say we've been and so we can either understand why people like them, or have more context for our complete confusion as to why people eat at them (Olive Garden, I'm looking at you!) . I let Hubby vote, and we ended up at Chevy's Fresh Mex at the outlets. Lets leave it at it was edible, and we can now say we tried it, and if I was stranded somewhere with nothing that looked like a safe dining (food safety) bet we'd eat at one again. But if they're going to build another chain restaurant near us in what's left of our commercial spaces they can pick another chain.